CROWN POINT — Cedar Lake, Schererville and Lake County officials have agreed to submit the dispute over E-911 cooperation to a neutral mediator.
The two sides named Joseph Simeri to help resolve differences that currently deny emergency officials in the two communities instant communications with emergency officials in the rest of Lake County.
Cedar Lake, Schererville are suing Lake County to grant them a radio link.
Simeri is a South Bend attorney who has mediated more than of 3,400 cases and is a charter member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, according to his law firm's website.
Gerald M. Bishop, who is defending the county, said mediation can begin after the lawsuit is transferred to a court in Jasper County, Simeri accepts the assignment and both parties are ready to talk. That may take several weeks.
Lake County's E-911 board voted Thursday to name Lake County Commissioner Michael Repay as its new chairman. Repay may have a key role in the negotiations. He replaces the late Roosevelt Allen, who was remembered Tuesday for guiding the county's E-911 formation.
Bishop said both sides agreed it would be easier to have a mediator from outside the county to ensure neutrality.
The state ordered all 92 counties to merge their county, city and town public safety dispatch services last year. Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station, Lowell, Munster, Merrillville, New Chicago, St. John and Whiting joined the county's E-911 network.
Cedar Lake and Schererville rebuffed the invitation and formed Southcom, a separate public safety answering point.
But Southcom doesn't have a direct link to Lake County's radio broadcasting network, making communications among police, fire and emergency medical service workers difficult.
Lake County officials have said the towns either must join the county system or pay a radio access fee.
The towns have refused, saying they already are paying the county more than its fair share of local income tax revenues from their residents. The two towns also want a share of the $2.3 million in telephone user fees the state recently granted Lake County.
A court document in the lawsuit states the county has agreed to help resolve all money issues by setting aside for the two towns 8.2 percent of the state funds – the towns' share of the county's total population.
Cedar Lake Town Council President Randall "Randy" Niemeyer and Schererville Town Council President Michael Troxell said they hope mediation will eventually resolve their differences.