Chesterton Tribune



County Council members form committee to discuss 911 funding with municipalities

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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 dispatching.

“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 said.

Council President 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.

Valparaiso 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 own dispatching.

Council 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.

Council member 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.




Posted 1/31/2014