CROWN POINT — The Lake County commissioners once again declined Wednesday to act on several equipment purchase requests submitted by Sheriff Oscar Martinez.
The three-member panel unanimously agreed to defer action on the sheriff's plans to spend $36,000 on a new police vehicle, $16,875 for vehicle antennas, a $50,000 boat package, a $21,000 vehicle lift, $23,560 for body temperature scanners and $16,775 for a two-person all-terrain vehicle.
The commissioners' regular questioning of the sheriff's spending, after funding for the purchases has been approved by the Lake County Council, is the basis of a lawsuit filed Nov. 6 by the council that ultimately seeks to take control of county purchasing and data processing from the commissioners.
The council contends it should be making those decisions, instead of the commissioners, based on a never-implemented 1981 Indiana statute that appears to delegate those powers in Lake County to the council.
Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-Schererville, said during Wednesday's meeting that he's willing to see how the lawsuit proceeds before acting on the sheriff's spending requests.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, believes the commissioners are legally entitled, and have a duty to Lake County residents, to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and properly.
"I was elected by the people, and I feel like the sheriff has an obligation to prove to me that he needs to have all these ATVs and boats in order to conduct his operations," Repay said.
Commissioner Kyle Allen, D-Gary, agreed with his colleagues the sheriff's proposed purchases should be deferred.
Sheriff Oscar Martinez said the commission's decision would hinder the department's operations and affect the safety of residents.
"I find it disturbing that the Lake County Commissioners are so cavalier about delaying the purchase of essential equipment — like deferring the purchase of body temperature scanner kiosks during the COVID-19 pandemic," Martinez said. These kiosks would allow security to quickly take the temperature of every person entering the county complex to screen for COVID-19."
Martinez said the purchasing delays would also affect the efficiency of the police garage, because only one lift would be available.
"Until we can purchase a new lift, our technicians only have one lift to raise squad cars off the ground for maintenance and repair," Martinez said.
At the same time, the commissioners did authorize the sheriff to contract for a variety of medical and drug treatment services in the county jail, along with COVID-19 personal protective equipment, after Warden Michael Zenk explained the prices being paid.