Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter County will search for new E911 director

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By AL BODIE

Porter County Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, announced at Tuesday’s meeting that current E911 Director Dave Sheibels has been asked—and has agreed—to serve as interim E911 director until a replacement has been found.

Evans said the Commissioners have met with Sheibels twice and this move was the outcome of those meetings. Evans would not term the action a demotion nor would he say that Sheibels is stepping down. Sheibels “has agreed to become the interim director until a replacement is found,” Evans said simply.

Evans had previously promised that a consultant’s report critical of the County’s E911 center would be acted on. “We are doing something,” he said. “The report is not going to just sit on the shelf.”

Evans added that he did not know where Sheibels would work after a new director is hired. One possibility discussed is Sheibels’ taking a position with the Porter County Sheriff’s Police as a communication and computer system specialist. Evans did voice his praise for Sheibels’ work in making the E911 center a success.

The E911 center handles 155,000 calls annually.

“We don’t even know how difficult finding his replacement will be, or if one exists with his experience,” Evans said.

In 1994, while employed as a Valparaiso Police Officer, Sheibels digitized and organized the department’s records and files and was named “Officer of the Year” by the Fraternal Order of Police, an honor usually only given to officers for an act of heroism or bravery.

Meanwhile, Evans read REM Management Service’s response to published criticisms of its work for the Commissioner evaluating the E911 center. In an e-mail REM Service Principle Daniel McDevitt, himself with many years experience as a police officer, suggested that some have accused his group of “cronyism” in getting the county’s contract. McDevitt’s response: “No one from the county that works in public safety ever worked for or with REM.” And McDevitt cited examples of his coming to Porter County to perform police duties or help investigate crimes.

Read aloud at the meeting, the e-mail also responded to suggestions that McDevitt spent time on the golf course with county officials, resulting in work for his firm. McDevitt’s response: “I do not play golf. I tried it once and was not very good and have not played it since.”

Sheibels’ has said that REM’s findings and recommended changes were based not on fact or observation but rather on “hearsay,” that he feels the consultants did not spend enough time observing the center’s day-to-day operations, and that they were too quick to believe reports that he did not respond to complaints or problems.

The consultants, for their part, have said that they interviewed police and fire chiefs in the surrounding areas and that these officials no longer file complaints because he (Sheibels) ignores them.

Sheibels has said that these allegations do not accurately portray him and that these same officials have not always been patient in waiting for his response or corrective actions.

“It’s disheartening to have the integrity of the consultants and their report being questioned,” Evans said. “We believe in them (REM) and their work. It was an unbiased project.”

A consultant group has been retained to recruit, select, and interview applicants for the E911 Director position and to recommend the best candidates. The Commissioners approved an expenditure of $5,000 for this service.

Homeless Study

In other business, the Commissioners awarded Barb Young, director of the Porter County Community Foundation, $5,000 to help fund a study on the area's homeless population and to assess their needs. The total cost of the study is expected to be over $31,000.

And the Commissioner approved an expenditure of $150,000, requested by Linda Woloshansky, director of Workforce Innovations, for continued work in the field of Adult Education. One of several sites to benefit from the funds is Chesterton’s Adult Learning Center at the Westchester Library Service Center, where 65 adult learners participate. In addition to teaching GED coursework, the area learning centers also help students develop skills desired by future employers through further education.

The Commissioners will next meet at 2 p.m., Tuesday, May 3, at the Porter County Administration Building ,155 Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso.

 

Commissioners set Rainy Day Fund for E911

By AL BODIE

At Tuesday’s Porter County Commissioners meeting, a motion was approved to immediately establish a “Rainy Day Fund” in the amount of $4.25 million to supplement the County's E911 Center budget for 2011 and 2012.

Before introducing the ordinance that would create the fund, Commission President John Evans, R-North, explained that the current shortfall can be traced back to yjr bankruptcy of Bethlehem Steel Company, whose property-tax bill had represented a significant portion of the county's budget. Bethlehem’s inability to pay the tax bill hit the E911 budget especially hard and Evans said that it’s been a constant uphill battle to catch up since.

In addition, Evans said needed technological updates and additional personnel added to the shortfall. “We had to keep up with advances in technology and that alone has increased the center’s expenses by $1.4 million,” he said.

An outside consulting firm has recommended that an additional eight to 10 E911 dispatchers be added to meet increasing service demands. Evans suggested that in the future the Commissioners may have the Social Security and benefit costs of all the E911 dispatchers financed through the board’s budget.

As for additional funding sources, Evans said that he is going to urge the Porter County Council to increase E911 fees paid by both county landline and wireless customers. Currently these fees respectively are $1.50 and 50 cents. Since wireless E911 fees are controlled by the state, the county can only request that an increase be considered. However the County Council does have jurisdiction over E911 charges paid by landline users, and Evans recommended that the County Council approve increasing the current fee from $1.50 to $2.000. He would also like to see the Council ask the state to increase the wireless surcharge by 25 cents.

Nationwide studies have found that an increasing number of phone customers are switching from landline to wireless service. Currently Indiana wireless users are being charged 50 cents for E911 service. With many county and local governments seeing a resulting decline in funds because of this trend, many are recommending an increase in wireless E911 charges. Phone users who have computer or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Phone) connections pay the same amount as landline customers.

Customers who have both landline and wireless phone are already paying a total of $2 for E911 coverage.

The Porter County Council is expected to review and act on the increase at its next meeting, 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, at Porter County Administration Office, 155 Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso.

 

Posted 4/20/2011

 

 

 

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