Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Council agrees to spend hospital interest for more 911 channels

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Council members joined the County Board of Commissioners in agreeing to appropriate $1.1 million for software and technology upgrades for the Enhanced 911 Center out of the hospital interest fund, in a 7-0 vote on Tuesday.

The request from 911 Communications Director John Jokantas involved two parts, the largest being $907,000 for upgrades of the center’s radio hardware and consoles to increase the number of channels for police, fire, EMS, and EMA that it can monitor and broadcast on in many areas across the county.

Jokantas said that Chesterton and Porter , which are on their own dispatch system, will receive new hardware and software. The two towns have not consolidated with the County’s 911 dispatch center while the two larger municipalities, Portage and Valparaiso, have.

Another section of channels will be for police, fire and EMS from neighboring LaPorte County as the Porter County 911 serves as their backup should LaPorte’s system go offline.

The second part of the request is to purchase software from Priority Dispatch that will give 911 dispatchers a series of protocol situations for police and fire for different emergency situations such as how to perform CPR and what do in a structure fire.

The new enhancements will shave seconds off response times, Jokantas said, which can be critical moments in emergency situations. It also could mean a slight decrease in homeowners’ insurance costs, Jokantas said, since Insurance Service Office, which regularly rates some of the county’s fire departments, give points to those using the Emergency Fire Dispatch Protocol system.

Council president Bob Poparad, D-At Large, inquired as to how long the new equipment is expected to last given the fact technology changes so quickly. Jokantas said the upgrades will be sufficient for “at least the next decade” or beyond.

Before the vote, other Council members pondered if they should be looking deeper into the request given the County’s pending financial challenges.

Council member Dan Whitten, D-At Large, said the Council should be talking about a long term funding plan with the Commissioners.

“My concern is we are not having a big enough discussion. Interest money isn’t endless,” Whitten said.

The Council is also concerned about how 911 will be funded next year as the rainy day funds it’s been using for nearly half its $3.6 million annual budget are expected to dry up in the second half of 2014.

Jokantas said the County receives the other half, about $1.8 million from the state’s surcharge fees on phones. A smaller sum of $100,000 or so comes out of the County’s general fund to pay for office supplies and other miscellaneous items, he said.

As there is little room in the County’s shrinking General Fund, some County Council members such as Jim Biggs, R-1st, have suggested looking to county economic development income tax dollars to fund operations.

Biggs had deliberated tabling Jokantas’ request, to allow the Council to gather more information, but Jokantas said costs would go up $50,000 if the Council decided to stall.

Poparad said there is new legislation from the state approved this year that will allow Counties to collect from municipalities to help offset the 911 costs.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said he has doubts if municipalities like Portage would have the funds available in their levy to help chip in.

Jokantas said other counties across the state are also scrambling to pay 911 budgets but some, like Hamilton County, have municipalities provide support based on population and call volume.

As for further aid from the Indiana General Assembly, Jokantas said it has the ability to raise the surcharge fees up to 10 cents a year. Whether it will do so this year has yet to be determined, but even if it does it will still not be enough to put Porter County’s 911 center in the black, Jokantas said.

State surcharge fees were never intended to fully fund operations, he added.

After the Council’s unanimous vote, Jokantas announced that the new simulcast system will be operational starting Sept. 9.

This is the second time the County has appropriated hospital interest money to the 911 center. Earlier in 2012, the department received $985,520 to cover an agreement with Motorola Solutions to purchase upgrades for radio and pager systems that carried a bandwidth meeting new federal requirements.

That approval also garnered unanimous votes from the Commissioners and the Council citing that public safety is an appropriate use of that money.

 

Posted 8/28/2013