Porter County officials worry they will not see the external help needed to
operate the county’s Enhanced 911 system.
The County Council realized last fall that something needed to be done in
order to keep the E-911 communications center from running in the red by
more than $2 million per year after 2013, when rainy day funds are expected
to dry up.
Believing that some relief would come from the state level, the council and
the board of commissioners were eager to see state lawmakers raise the
surcharge on cell phones for E-911 operations.
Throughout the 2012 General Assembly, lawmakers in both the House and Senate
proposed several bills, including one drafted by State Rep. Ed Soliday,
R-Valparaiso, but the one holding the most promise currently is Senate Bill
345 authored by State Senator Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.
As it was originally drafted, SB 345 would impose a $1 monthly fee on all
phones, wireless or land. Further parts have been authored by Soliday and
local State Senators Karen Tallian, D-Portage, and Ed Charbonneau,
On Thursday, SB 345 passed favorably out of the House’s Ways and Means
committee. However, the committee dropped the across-the-board surcharge fee
to $.75 per month meaning counties like Porter will have to dig deeper into
their pockets in order to shore up funding.
“That’s not enough. It has to be higher,” said Porter County Commissioner
President John Evans, R-North.
Emergency dispatch centers in every county around the state have lost
millions as phone users have shifted from using landline phones to cell
phones. Regular cell phone users current pay $.50 per month while landline
fees generally range from $.40 to $3 which is set by the county. Porter
County now has a $1.50 charge on landline phones.
County officials say they will want to know the precise amount they will
receive from the state and then hold a joint meeting with the cities and
towns on possibly revamping the system.
The Association of Indiana Counties said SB 345 would raise approximately
$65 million on 7.1 million devices but up to $10 million of that money would
automatically go to the state.
“It looks like we are going to be shorter than before,” said Council member
Jim Polarek, R-4th, who serves as a liaison to the county’s E-911
communication center with fellow Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd.
Rivas introduced a plan late last summer proposing that the county’s eleven
municipalities use 10 percent of their annual county economic development
income tax (CEDIT) dollars towards E-911 for this year, committing more than
In the second part of his plan, Rivas said the E-911 budget could slowly be
absorbed into the county’s general fund.
“It may be the only viable option we have,” said Rivas. “Our next step is to
call all the cities and towns and lay it all out on the table.”
But Rivas also acknowledged the financial crunches that many of these
municipalities are in. He still sees CEDIT money as a likely option since
state law allows the money to be spent on operations like E-911.
“You’re not getting my vote for raising taxes. We already have an income tax
and all we have to do is redistribute it,” said Rivas.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said the county also needs to look at its
current situation with general dispatching which the county took over for
Valparaiso in 2007 and Portage in 2009. He said the state only mandated
counties to pick up E-911 emergency calls.
Because the Chesterton and Burns Harbor dispatch centers have not
consolidated, residents in those towns are “woefully” paying a double E-911
fee for their dispatch centers and for the counties, Biggs said.
The legislation could also require the county to consolidate into one or two
Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and the county would need to agree
where that center, or centers, would be placed.
“There is a lot to consider here,” said Biggs.
Portage Mayor James Snyder said he is unsure of what the future holds
exactly for his 911 dispatching center as the city is currently focusing on
immediate goals such as getting the Portage Police station open at all
times. He said he would be willing to meet with the county once it has a
better idea of which direction it wants to move with E-911.
“We need to see what the county is going to propose and what they’re working
on before we can answer their concerns,” Snyder told the Tribune.
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said he would be willing to talk with the county
on finding a funding solution, but no one has approached him yet. He said he
is aware of the county’s struggle to keep up with the growing expense of
equipment and personnel.
Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said the municipalities should
give the county some reimbursement since the county took over Valparaiso and
Portage 911 centers at no extra costs to the cities.
“If everyone is in the game, they should be a part of it,” she said.
Graham said every county in the state is seeing shortfalls in their E-911
budgets because of statutory requirements to consolidate and follow through
on equipment upgrades. Therefore, the state should be willing to kick-in
“It’s very important what the legislators do. They’ve got to give us all
that they can,” she said. “I hope the legislators will come through and not
disappoint the people they represent. 911 is for everybody.”
Evans said he believes there is still time to get state legislators to
increase the surcharges before the General Assembly adjourns in mid-March
and urged council members to keep reaching out.
Polarek said he doesn’t blame the state for Porter County’s dilemma since
the commissioners agreed to take on all general dispatch calls for Portage
and Valparaiso. He said if the cities took back their general dispatching,
the county should have sufficient funding for their own E-911 calls.
“We’ll get it figured out. It’s one of those things where you don’t have a
choice. You have got to take care of public safety,” said Polarek.