News : New E-911 Era Dawns with New Year
Crown Point, IN, Dec 31, 2014 -- Lake officials predict the first emergencies of the new year will be handled by the county's new E-911 employees as smoothly as in years past.
The state set Thursday as the deadline to consolidate all police fire and emergency medical service communication. Lake has partially accomplished that, gathering 15 departments into a single network after five years of debate, resistance and last-minute spending and hiring.
On Tuesday, Lake County E-911 director Brian Hitchcock said anyone calling 911 in Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station, Lowell, Munster, Merrillville, New Chicago, St. John or Whiting will be answered by a dispatcher experienced in dealing with emergencies.
However, the county dispatchers won't be under one roof. Instead, they will work out of the many current municipal dispatch centers at least until the end of March because construction of the county's broadcast system won't be complete until then.
Another piece of unfinished business is that Cedar Lake and Schererville officials will remain outside the county system despite losing several of their town dispatchers to the county.
Cedar Lake Town Council President Randall "Randy" Niemeyer and Schererville Council President Mike Troxell said their towns will continue operating their public safety dispatch centers like before, staffed with trained police officers and part-time dispatchers for the coming weeks.
They will patiently await the final calculations of a business model showing whether the two towns can afford a separate consolidated communications network. Troxell and Niemeyer said they hope to have an answer within a month.
Troxell said finding the money to remain independent became more difficult earlier this month when St. John dropped out of their camp and joined the county.
"I'm not opposed if we have to spend a little more to operate our own PSAP (public safety answering point), but the question is, how much more will that be? Until we get those numbers in, we won't know that. We want to exhaust all possibilities to have a second PSAP to serve our residents," Troxell said.
Barry Ritter, the state E-911 director, said Tuesday in an email to The Times that a board of appointed state officials will review Lake County's progress as early as next month. "The decision on funding will not be determined until after the review."
Officials on both sides of the suburban and county split over E-911 consolidation have petitioned legislators to support their position and punish the other side, but state Reps. Hal Slager and Ed Soliday said they won't support punitive measures.
Slager said, "I'm not in favor of penalties and withholding taxpayer dollars because the legislature doesn't think (Lake County) is doing it the way (the legislators) think it should be done."
Soliday said rumors he is drafting a punitive bill against Lake are untrue, but he also cannot support giving Lake more time than the five years every other county has had to complete consolidation.
He said the legislature must renew the E-911 funding formula this year and he is drafting a bill he hopes will block other efforts to shift the entire burden of supporting E-911 from telephone users to property owners.
Soliday said he also hopes clear up any misunderstandings about how many consolidated networks, called PSAPs should be in any one county. Suburban officials said the current law permits two PSAPs.
Soliday said, "The original concept was (the state) would pay operating and capital expenses for one PSAP and capital expense for one backup (call center) site."
Soliday said he believes the current legislation doesn't provide enough funding to run new countywide PSAPs. He said he wants legislation increasing telephone user fees and the taxes transferred from municipalities giving up their public safety dispatch duties.
He said, "What we didn't think of, was that cities not only receive calls, but also dispatch (police, fire and EMS responders). They were paying for that with other tax dollars. A lot of cities are now bragging this (consolidation) was a windfall for them.
"To get people to sit down at the table and talk sensibly, I've put in the bill language that municipalities shall pay 50 percent of the dispatch costs," Soliday said. "Nobody will agree with me, but we have to start somewhere."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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