Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners clash over emergency system

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Discussions started to get heated at Tuesday’s Porter County Commissioner meeting as President John Evans, R-North, tried to get his colleagues’ backing on accepting the contract with Motorola for the 800 megahertz emergency services upgrade at an estimated cost of $9.8 million.

The Commissioners in August heard a presentation from the representatives of Motorola and the State’s Integrated Public Safety Commission about the 800 MHz system that many counties are converting to. One major incentive is that participating counties will not need to worry the cost for upgrades for the next 20 years as the state has signed a $78 million contract with Motorola to cover those.

The 800 MHz system would replace the County’s current VHF frequency system which it’s been running on for about 30 years. Evans said that if the County signs on this year, there will be a savings of $1 million.

“Right now it’s a $9 million proposition. If we wait until next year, it’s a $10 million proposition. (Motorola) agreed to give us a discount if we do something,” said Evans.

Evans said the 911 Advisory Committee has been in discussions about the upgrades and is asking where the Commissioners stand at this point. The other side of the coin is that the emergency responders who will be using the new radios and the municipalities, police, ambulance and fire districts should help pitch in for the purchase, he said.

“(The County) can’t take on all the expense of the equipment. We have to do that for our County employees but I think the municipalities, and even the township fire districts, I think they need to step up. We would be willing to help but they have to come forward with some of the money and I would like to propose that we accept Motorola’s plan contingent on the County Council finding the funding necessary to support the infrastructure part of it and hopefully negotiating with the municipalities and the Motorola people to find out how the equipment is going to be paid for,” said Evans, adding he’s had discussions with Council members Bob Poparad, D-at large, Karen Conover, R-3rd, Mike Jessen, R-4th and President Dan Whitten, D-at large.

“All of them have agreed that this needs to be done and the sooner the better if we are going to save any money at all,” said Evans. He asked Commissioners Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, and Jeff Good, R-Center, to give their support so they can see the savings in time.

Good and Blaney both said they were not prepared to discuss the matter as it was not on the meeting agenda. Good squabbled with Evans of who is willing to pay for what.

“Are you willing to say let’s spend another $1 million if we wait to January?” Evans asked Good.

“There’s always a hook, isn’t there?” Good said in response.

“They made the proposal to read that way. I didn’t create the proposal,” said Evans.

Good after the meeting said that he felt the County needs to do its due diligence on the plan, given the high cost. “There are a lot of issues involved in this,” he said.

Good said he would prefer it if the discussion would include any new officials on the Council and Commissioners should they be elected for next year and saw this as a push by Evans to get this done before the election.

Blaney said she would like to see the situation vetted properly before any decisions are made.

The County recently agreed on $2.5 million to build an animal shelter and the 800 MHz system is more complicated than that, Good said. One possible source of funding could be what’s left over of the $10 million in hospital sale proceeds not invested in the Foundation, but using that money would require unanimous votes from the Council and Commissioners and Good said he is not ready to give a favorable vote.

Whitten later on Tuesday said what he wants to see happen is the Commissioners figure out all that’s in the contract first and then make their case to the Council for funding.

Conover this morning told the Chesterton Tribune that going after the savings “made sense” to her and said she agreed when Evans reached out to her that this should be pursued. She said she would favor using the money available from the hospital sale but she understands if other officials feel they need more time.

Another part of the discussion included the Porter County Sheriff’s Police request for the County to purchase body and car cameras.

“In the standpoint of public safety and for our officers, to be transparent but primarily for officer safety, body cameras and car cameras are something we really should consider,” Sheriff David Reynolds said. “The funding mechanism is always the concern.”

Evans said that not only would the cameras be for the officers but for the safety for the general public as well.

The Commissioners did agree, on a 3-0 vote, to put out a request for proposals on medical staff at the jail. The County approved a contract three years ago with Correct Care Solutions to provide 24-hour care to inmates for $1.3 million per year.

Reynolds and PCSP business manager Edie Hahn said there is no change in the services they seek but they hope that an RFP will bring in competitive bids to reduce costs.

In other business:

-- The Commissioners viewed a slide show of pictures showing the ongoing progress of the new County Animal Shelter made by Gerry Yagelski, the Commissioners’ hired project manager. Blaney said construction is moving quickly with the curbs and sidewalks in. The water line is in and the sewer line will be put in soon. The masonry work is 85 percent complete.

-- The Voters Registration Office request to rent a ballot printer from Election Software and Systems was approved to help keep lines moving quickly on early voting and Election Day. The printer can produce a ballot for any voting precinct.

Voters Registration Republican Director Sundae Schoon said this will reduce the wait for early voters who at times have stood in line for more than an hour.

-- The Commissioners approved a contract with North Woods for snow removal at the North County Government Complex in Portage for the lowest bid at $12,000. That’s a savings from what the County has paid three years previously, said Facilities Director Matt Stechley.

-- The Memorial Opera House will collaborate with CivicPlus for $8,000 in creating a new platform for its website. County Web Manager Curt Ellis said the site will be similar to the upgrades made last month to the Expo Center website, being more user friendly. The work will be paid for out of the Opera House’s budget.



Posted 11/2/2016




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