Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners push to make fire radio system upgrades using hospital money

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County may use close to $1 million from accrued hospital sale interest money for the purpose of making system upgrades to its voice and pager radio systems for local fire departments.

The commissioners gave unanimous nod Tuesday to a recommendation made by the county’s E-911 Communications Director John Jokantas and Todd Bell, senior accounts manager with Motorola Solutions, to erect five new transmitting/receiving stations and nine new stations which would only be able to receive radio transmissions on channels strictly for fire departments.

County police and emergency services operate on different channels.

Total cost of the installations would be $985,520 but Bell said the move will save the county tens of thousands of dollars elsewhere because all emergency channels will need to be upgraded eventually to comply with the Federal Communication Commission’s Jan. 1 deadline for all public safety radio systems to begin operating at 12.5 kHz. Systems that were purchased during the last 20 years typically operate at about 25 kHz, Bell said, and the FCC wants communication channels to narrowband to support more users.

“Every single system has to conform to that,” Bell said.

Jokantas said installing the systems could take 12 to 14 months, so he will be filing for a waiver with the FCC.

Since the upgrades are federally mandated, the county has little choice but to make the purchase. County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said he believes this would warrant proper use of hospital interest funds since the matter relates to emergency services.

In order to use the funds, the measure will need majority votes from the commissioners and the county council. Evans said he will see to it that the request goes before the county council at its next meeting on June 26.

Bell mentioned other benefits that would result from the new radio system, chiefly safety for the firefighters, increased response time and reliability. “The voice system is the lifeline for (firefighters),” he said. The current system is over ten years old and the county has experienced increased coverage issues gradually over the recent years, most frequently in the southern areas of the county like Kouts and Hebron but problems have too been reported by the Town of Porter.

The county currently has one transmitting station located near CR 600N and Ind. 49 and eight receiving stations, Jokantas said. The new receiving stations will also allow further communication with neighboring counties Lake and LaPorte.

The radio system would serve 17 of the county’s 19 fire stations. Portage and Valparaiso handle their own fire department radios.

In another E-911 matter, the commissioners adopted an ordinance repealing its current surcharge fees for landline, cell phone and pre-paid wireless phones and set up a new fund complying with the state’s law establishing surcharge fees. The measure will go into effect on July 1.

Landline and cell phones will be charged equally $.90 per phone while pre-paid wireless users will need to pay $.50 each time minutes are added. Formally the county’s rates were $1.50 for landlines, $.50 for cell phones, and $.25 for pre-paid wireless.

The amounts are the same in counties throughout the state in an effort to cover some of the likely shortfalls in operation expenses for E-911 centers.

The money will paid by the county to the newly formed E-911 state board which will then redistribute the money to the counties based on their population.

Applications for

Redevelopment Commission

The commissioners repeated their unanimous vote for a second and final reading establishing a new county redevelopment commission.

The new body will be able to seek grants for economic development and propose Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.

Evans said applications will be taken for the five-member board. The commissioners will make two citizen appointments and the county council will make one. The remaining two seats are for the commissioner president (Evans) and president of the county council, Dan Whitten.

Under state statute, a school board member will serve on the board as a non-voting member.

Evans said applications will be due Thursday, July 12 and expects to announce the appointments at the following commissioner meeting on July 17.

Application forms can be found on the county website under the Forms and Documents tab. They can also be picked up at the at the commissioners’ office in the county administration center (155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso, Room 205).

Centralized voting centers?

A few more changes in polling place locations in Portage Township will be in place for this November’s general elections. The commissioners approved a request from Voters Registration Democratic Director Kathy Kozuszek to move Portage precinct 6’s polling place from the Hampton Inn on 6353 Melton Rd. to the meeting room of Best Western at 6200 U.S. 20.

Also, Portage precincts 19 and 31, which in the past have voted at Our Lady of Sorrows at 356 Seven Mile Road, will now vote at the South Haven Public Library.

The new locations affect a total 2,361 registered voters who will be sent letters of notification by the state, Kozuszek said, but some confusion is still likely to ensue.

Evans took the opportunity to reiterate his wish to see centralized voting centers in Porter County. A small number of counties in Indiana use this type of system in which voters can travel to any one of these centers on Election Day for their convenience regardless of what precinct they live in. Evans scoffed at the fact the county has 123 polling locations. Centralized voting could minimize that amount by 66 percent.

Kozuszek said the county could begin discussions to start centralized voting in 2013 since that is an off-year for elections. She did advise though that there is not much of a difference between the costs of having voting centers versus voting by precinct.

“I’ve been talking with the other counties which have (centralized voting) and the costs are still there,” Kozuszek said.

Nepotism, smoking resolutions

Also on Tuesday, all three commissioners agreed to establish a new ordinance in the county employee handbook reflecting the state’s new law to ban nepotism in governments. The provision is mandated by the Indiana General Assembly. Counties must adopt the policy on or before July 1. A second part of that law requires elected officials to disclose publicly any family relationships they have with associates of firms before a contract can be entered into.

In another resolution the commissioners adopted a rule to ban smoking in Porter County Government building under the statewide smoking ban also effective July 1. Employees will not be allowed to smoke within 15 feet of entryways.

Meanwhile, the commissioners signed off on a $98,520 contract with Diversified Research and Development LLC, of Portage, to scan and digitally store images of documents in the county assessor’s office which should free up space in the county administration building.

County Assessor Jon Snyder said about 135 filing cabinets containing over a million documents are stationed throughout his offices and storage areas. Once scanned, the documents can be taken offsite.

“We’re going to thin the files to save money,” said Snyder.

Digitalizing is something Snyder would like to do, making steps toward an e-Government system which is listed as an objective in the county’s Total Quality Management (TQM) system.

The costs will be taken out of the county auditor’s non-reverting fund created with the TQM program.

 

 

Posted 6/21/2012