County debates adding EMA position | Local News


CLINTON — Clinton County’s Emergency Management Agency Board voted Wednesday to hire a replacement operations officer as soon as funding is available. 

The board voted 7-2 to proceed with the hiring. Clinton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Srp and Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln voted against the motion.

Based on the current funding equation, the Board of Supervisors would need to make funds available for any of the hiring options, said Srp. 

“There are other funding equations available for EMA to consider besides solely going to the supervisors,“ Srp said. “And I intend to present those options as well if there’s a strong feeling that they want to move a request like this forward. I intend to remind them that within the code there are provisions for the municipalities themselves and other equations for contributions towards these expenses.” 

Chance Kness, Clinton County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, said the request is for a temporary increase in staffing until the operations officer retires. At that point, EMA would go back to three full time positions.

The agency’s workload has increased for the last six months and for the foreseeable future, said Kness. The agency has been doing disaster emergency work and basic maintenance rather than carrying out its normal programs.

“When people have asked me about what we can stop doing, we’ve already stopped doing all of those things that are [optional] or can be paused or delayed for some time,“ Kness said. 

Some funding will be available to help cover the cost of the hire, which is estimated at about $177,000 for the three fiscal years, said Kness. The agency recently received a $15,000 Emergency Management performance supplemental grant and it expects to receive about $20,000 from the first round of the CARES Act, he said.

By the second or third fiscal year, about $37,000 will be available in the normal emergency management performance grant, said Kness. Funding sources for the remaining $107,000 have not been identified. 

Supervisor Jim Irwin Jr. said he is struggling with adding a fourth person to the current staff of three employees. He asked if there is another county in the state with three or more EMA positions. 

A few counties have three or more EMA employees, Kness said. He admitted it is rare.

Kness noted differences in duties in counties.  Clinton County EMA handles the medical examiner investigator program, he said. As far as he knows, no other emergency management agencies head that effort and certainly not to the extent of Clinton County EMA. Clinton County EMA took on the program due to a lack of bids, Kness said. 

“If we talk about any specific program, there are probably dozens of EMAs that have those programs or have done those services,” Kness said. “But I would wager that there aren’t any that do all of the things that we’ve done.

“And so the natural progression here is to ask, do we have to do those things? And we can certainly choose to do compliance only in Emergency Management, and that’s done in some places,” said Kness.

“But we don’t get the benefits of the mitigation from that if we just do the basics. If it’s just compliance. And we don’t get the benefits of those response capabilities either,” Kness said.

Irwin said the county has allowed EMA to grow “into such a large animal that we cannot tame it anymore.” He is struggling with the proposed two-year overlap, he said.

Clinton County Sheriff’s Office deputies are in their own vehicles with their own guns after around 20 or 30 weeks of training, Irwin said. He noted no overlap with the county budget director and a six-week overlap with the assistant in the treasurer’s office.

EMA is the secondary for emergency response, Irwin said. “It’s not primary. You’re not a deputy. You’re not a police officer. You’re not fire. You’re there for backup and for help,” he said.

“I just struggle with, we’ve got there’s so many departments and everybody else is we’re trying to cut and trying to hold their budgets. And you’re coming in here asking for a two-year overlap because in your wording it says it takes them two years to get them 90% and five years to get to 100% to know what their job roles are,” said Irwin.

The reason two years is required to be 90% trained, said Kness, is that the agency deals with a number of different planning exercises and training cycles, such as a two-year training cycle for radiological training.

The trainings can only be done every two years, Kness said, and training at the state level requires a minimum of two years to get through the certified emergency manager training the way the classes are offered. 

“This is not something I wanted to get to,” Kness said. “As I‘ve noted a few times, we’re leveraging our other county entities to help us. We’re leveraging our volunteers to what I would say an excessive amount. They’ve been awesome for us.

“I’m asking for this because we need assistance now because we’re not getting all the work done and I need to be able to explain to people why I can’t do it all and why we’re not able to fill those needs,” said Kness. “I’m not used to having to say no so often, and I am having to say no when people ask.”

Board Vice-Chairman Tom Determann suggested the board wait until the budget session early in 2021 to consider the request. That would still provide a year and a half of coverage, he said.

www.clintonherald.com2020-09-14 13:00:00

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