Chesterton Tribune

Help on the way for E911 services

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By CASEY REES

With hundreds of thousands of dollars and the integrity of the emergency 911 services weighing in the balance, the Porter County Council explored ways to fund the addition of eight new dispatchers to the 911 center Tuesday.

All seven members of the council were in attendance for the monthly meeting held at Chesterton Town Hall, a departure from the usual meeting place, the County Administration Center.

Currently there are 34 full-time dispatchers working at the 911 center that serves most of Porter County. That number has not grown despite a rise in the number of emergency calls and an effort that began in 2008 to consolidate all 911 dispatchers in the county into one efficient emergency response center. The Association of Public Safety Communications, a national group whose formula for staffing 911 centers is widely used, says the county needs a minimum of 46 dispatchers.

Dan McDevitt, a retired policeman and spokesman for the operational analysis done on the emergency response system, thinks that our current situation is a recipe for disaster. “With the (personnel) shortages, people are required to work overtime. It’s mandatory.” McDevitt said. “When you’ve got dispatchers that are fatigued, they are not going to be at their peak, they are not going to make the right calls. We think that if eight were hired, then they would have enough folks there to put everyone on a different schedule, to get away from this rotating (midnights to day shift) every week. Which is brutal for these folks.”

The addition of the eight new dispatchers is a move favored by all members in the council but there is disagreement on how to pay for the move and if paying a lot now will prevent paying even more in the future.

Biggs: Where is the Plan?

“I still haven’t seen a consolidation plan and as you know by now, the town of Chesterton as well as the town of Porter could opt to hand over their dispatching responsibilities to the county completing the consolidation by 2014,” said Councilman Jim Biggs.

“The concern is over the amount of money all this is costing. I wholeheartedly agree that this is the backbone of our public safety existence here in the county. As that goes, everything else follows. But what does bother me is that we don’t have a consolidation plan, which at the end of the day tells us how much we are going to pay for the system. Because once we commit to this aid, realistically, the town of Chesterton could come back and say ‘it’s all yours.’”

Biggs worries that if that happens, will E911 be back in front of the council asking for another two or three employees.

Evans: Commissioners have the Money and the Authority

County commissioner John Evans, who was present at the meeting, was adamant about getting the E911 center the help it needs at whatever cost. “With the cash infusion of the $4,027,075.50 that we put in to create the rainy day fund, even hiring eight dispatchers and putting in Smart911 will leave us with a cash projected balance at the end of 2012 of $999,474.94. Nearly a million dollars.” Evans said.

“Believe me, I want to work with the council, if you want to send your attorney with a committee to the cities and towns and ask them to contribute that’s wonderful. But this is something that can’t be ignored. So much so that I believe Indiana code 36-8-16-14 and Indiana code 36-8-21 says that the legislative body, that’s the county commissioners, is the unit that may appropriate the money in the funding. In other words, this is done. We have already hired the dispatchers today at our meeting. I also authorized the hiring of two more part-time call takers for the center as well. We have got to get these people some help.” 

Biggs to Evans: Work with Us

Biggs, concerned with how rapidly things were proceeding, expressed trepidation to Evans over the use of resources. “I can appreciate what the state of Indiana says that you can and cannot do as it applies to this particular issue, but I would appreciate that you don’t get so far ahead of us that we can’t see you anymore. This is a lot of money. That’s why I asked about this consolidation plan. You’re moving forward without us.”

Funding Options

With the deal already done, Council President Dan Whitten urged his fellow council members to find solutions to pay the tab and be able to sustain the cost of the new dispatchers.

“We’re talking about a lot of money here. We’re talking about public safety. We need a real, palatable, defined consolidation plan. And I think it has to have options. Like Option A, the state makes the funding changes we are asking them to make. And B, if they don’t, what are we going to do? It’s great to say we are going to go talk to the cities and towns about contributing money. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t have any. They are all talking about the shortfalls that they are experiencing,” Whitton said.

“We are talking about millions of dollars. We have a public safety issue that we have to address. But the money has to come from somewhere. So in this consolidation plan I expect the listeners to have some input as to what funds they are suggesting the money come from. We have to know what our options are. This is the kind of thing that will break the bank,” he said.

Biggs put things into perspective. “This is our problem and we have to own it.” Biggs said. “Because if we don’t own it and work together to get it straightened out, it is never going to get straightened out. We will wake up one day, and something terrible has happened.”

Library Appointment Tabled

The council decided unanimously to wait until next month’s meeting to assign a new trustee to the Porter County Library Board. The reason being that they didn’t feel the opening was publicly announced and since there are no major developments in the works for the Porter County Library system, having a vacant spot for a month would be of no consequence.

The council emphasized that this was not a slight against the incumbent, Gerrie Bowie, but an effort to be more democratic.

 

Posted 6/29/2011

 

 

 

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