Lowell pulls out of pilot E-911 consolidation program with county
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent March 20, 2013 1:20PM
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: April 22, 2013 12:07PM
In another blow to the E-911 consolidation process Lowell has backed out of the pilot consolidation plan that would have transferred two of its employees and all of the town’s 911 calls to the sheriff’s department dispatch center.
Wednesday the Lake County Commissioners said that although the Lake County Council revised the agreement and the pact works for county commissioners, Lowell no longer wants to participate.
Commissioners said they had no other choice than to unanimously veto the much scrutinized E-911 interlocal agreement with the town.
Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said he learned from town officials the town no longer plans to go through with the consolidation.
“Unfortunately Lowell cannot get any employees to come up to the county to work,” Scheub said.
Commissioner Michael Repay, D-Hammond, said the town’s decision to pull out was based on staffing and not a move against the consolidation.
“It’s not really related at all to the 911 consolidation,” Repay said.
Originally the interlocal called for two of the town’s dispatchers to transfer to the county and become employees of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, who runs the county’s 911 call center. In return, Lowell would have paid the county $100,000 to cover the pay and benefits of the two employees during the pilot consolidation period.
Last week the Lake County Council approved a revised version of the agreement that would keep the two Lowell dispatchers on the town’s payroll and benefit plan but transfer their duties to the county’s 911 dispatch center, similar to the way officers from different departments are assigned to the sheriff’s drug task force.
Buncich last week told the council he opposed the revisions to the interlocal agreement, saying the changes were not a true consolidation.
The pilot consolidation was important for the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission, the panel of police and fire leaders tasked with coordinating and facilitating the consolidation of the county’s 18 public safety answering points by the Dec. 31, 2014 deadline, had planned to use the pilot consolidation with Lowell as an opportunity to test the waters and have solutions for the inevitable problems they expect to arise when all.
About 3,000 surveys have already been sent to Lowell residents to learn their present views of their existing 911 services and how they expect those services to change upon consolidation. A follow-up survey was expected to be sent after the consolidation.
Interim Lowell Police Chief Erik Matson, who Thursday replaced resigning Chief John Shelhart, said he is not yet up to speed on the 911 consolidation. Shelhart was chair of the 911 commission’s technology committee. Matson said the decision was made by the town council.
The failure to move forward with the consolidation was a disappointment to Buncich.
“It’s regrettable. We did an extensive amount of work, research on call volume. We did our homework,” Buncich said.
He said trying a pilot consolidation with another community would likely be fruitless. Now his concerns are focusing on getting the county council and commissioners to act on hiring a new E-911 director. Buncich said a leader who knows about E-911 systems and how to guide the consolidation needs to be found to provide direction.
Buncich said doing a search for a director could take as long as 60 days and commissioners Wednesday did not begin the process.
We need to move forward. I urge the board to start seeing a full-time director,” Buncich said.
Hobart Fire Chief Brian Taylor, the E-911 Commission Chair, could not be reached for comment.