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