Hearing the news
that the Chesterton Town Council voted to merge with the Town of Porter its
police radio dispatch operations and detective bureaus, County Council
member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said Tuesday he would like for County officials to
meet with the municipalities to discuss shared funding for emergency
“I don't know how
this will end up but this is our dispatching system. The whole county.
Everyone including the unincorporated areas has a stake in this,” Biggs
Dan Whitten, D-At Large, formed a committee at Biggs’ request consisting of
Biggs, County Council members Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, Jeremy Rivas,
D-2nd, and Enhanced 911 Communications Director John Jokantas which hopes to
sit down with the municipal parties.
Biggs said if the
Chesterton/Porter unit ever decided it would consolidate with the County’s
911 dispatch, it would mean the County would have to pay out $300,000 extra
for personnel costs while its 911 funds are running low.
consolidated its dispatch operations with the County in 2007 and Portage
followed in 2009, as the County then had a surplus of money in its 911 rainy
day funds. Biggs has made the argument that the mergers were done without
any plan on the part of the County Commissioners on how to withstand rising
costs in the future.
“We need to have
serious conversations with municipal leaders on what's best for all of us
and how that is going to fund consolidation in the future,” Biggs said.
Jokantas said his
center handles fire, EMS, and police calls for all the County with the
exception of Chesterton and Porter Police which have always handled their
Vice-president Karen Conover, R-3rd, said she has had discussions with
Valparaiso officials who said they feel handing over funds to the County 911
dispatch center would be a double tax on residents who are already paying
the phone surcharge fees. Currently all residents in Porter County are
paying a monthly surcharge fee of 90 cents on landline phones and cell
phones and 50 cents for prepaid phone cards.
Biggs said he
disagreed that municipalities are “paying the lion’s share” for 911 but he
also said anything the County does must not put city and town governments in
a situation where they are “going to lose.” He said the committee must try
to find where the happy medium is with the municipalities.
“Any help is better
than no help at all. We need to get on it and some kind of corporation needs
to be discussed,” he said. “We need to make sure that someone will always be
there to answer that phone (at the dispatch center). It could be the
difference between life and death.”
Jokantas said he
feels “the worst thing to do” would be to tell cities and towns to pay a
large sum of money out of their budgets for E-911. He suggested offering
them a certain percentage that would be tolerable for them and increase it
modestly over the years.
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, also thinks the committee needs to probe the fact that
the County 911 center handles dispatching for the Town of Winfield and
Winfield Township in Lake County.
Jokantas said his
center provides dispatching services for fire and EMS in Winfield, which was
agreed to by the County Board of Commissioners about 15 years ago, while
police dispatching is handled by Lake County.
Whitten agreed this
is “a huge conversation (the County) needs to have” but he acknowledged that
the municipalities are also facing tough times with their budgets.
Jokantas said there
are a number of counties in Indiana that receive municipal contributions to
their 911 system.
In another matter
related to 911, the Council voted to table Jokantas’ requests to use
$135,780 out of the 911 Rainy Day and $24,720 in the E911 surcharge fund to
free up CEDIT money that could be used elsewhere.
The Council did
approve 7-0 to accept the $2 million the Commissioners have offered in
unallocated CEDIT to shore up the E-911 center and cover the medical
services contract for the County Jail.
The funds had been
previously approved by the Council during the fall budget hearings but
needed to be reapproved because the funds had exceeded the amounts listed
when the budget was advertised.