Butler County sheriff’s official to packed meeting: We can save $150K by taking over EMA management

A Butler County Sheriff’s Office official told the county commissioners on Monday the office could cut emergency management personnel spending in half by taking over those functions, but a specific plan was not yet presented about the ongoing issue.

The commissioners’ chambers were packed Monday morning with a standing room-only crowd anxious to hear the plan of Sheriff Richard Jones. Jones was not in attendance, but Chief Deputy Tony Dwyer provided the broad strokes about halving the $300,000 EMA personnel budget.

“Our proposal is retaining only two of the four people, which reduced the cost by about $150,000, which is a 50 percent savings which will be attributed back to the per capita fee that all the townships and cities pay into run EMA,” Dwyer said.

“With reducing two people we’ll then adopt all the functions that those two people would normally be responsible for EMA, and then all the different functions that are taking place would be distributed amongst my current staff. We’re not going to be adding staff.”

The sheriff has offered to hire EMA Director Matt Haverkos if the takeover happens.

“There’s a lot more questions that need to be answered and until there’s a written plan it’s very challenging to talk about just a theory,” Haverkos said.

Dwyer said he needs more information about the agency and its employees before providing a full plan.

“When you’re dealing with taking over an operation, until you start to get approval, I can’t even speak to EMA personnel to identify all of their job duties,” he told the Journal-News. “Once I have that ability, then I can start identifying what will stay and what will be farmed out to my staff.”

He said there may be duties Haverkos is performing now that could be done by one of his deputies. An example is school assessments that are mandated by law. He said the sheriff’s department hasschool resource officers already in the schools and those assessments could be added to their job responsibilities.

Dwyer said there was also hesitation about the sheriff taking over the dog warden function and the Butler County emergency communication system but argued those have run smoothly.

Former EMA director and current Morgan Twp. Fire Chief Jeff Galloway said Dwyer is comparing dissimilar things.

“You’re not talking apples to apples,” Galloway said. “We have most of the resources and all that, we’re doing a great job now if you look at what we’re doing, to say, ‘Well, we can make it better,’ well do you really fix something that’s not broken?”

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Randy Hannifen, who works for the West Chester Twp. Fire Department and is chairman of the county’s technical rescue board, said emergency management functions are best overseen as an independent operation.

“The reason people want it to stay the same way is if you look across the country, having that neutrality that is in EMA is really what makes that collaboration successful,” he said. “The minute you put it in a fire department, in a police department or sheriff’s department it really takes that neutrality out of that collaboration.”

Dwyer said the different specialized teams and boards like technical rescue and hazmat will remain intact. He said the sheriff has “no intention of controlling that when you have a disaster.”

“If you have something major, like a building collapse in Hamilton, it’s going to be the Hamilton fire chief … EMA is the support system to get resources,” Dwyer said.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he is concerned that a change could jeopardize a system that works.

“There appear to be two opposing views about how things should be done,” he said. “Thoughts that give me pause are if there is a decision on way or the other, will the other faction perform in the same way they have been and operate as one?”

The 2019 EMA budget is about $400,000 funded by local jurisdictions and federal grants and another $100,000 for special teams like hazmat.

Commission President Don Dixon told the crowd Monday’s event was the first of multiple forums to come on the topic. After the meeting, he told the Journal-News that while there haven’t been problems with the agency, there is an disconnect with the sheriff that needs to be addressed.

“We have to fix this issue, the sheriff has to be more integrated into the emergency management side of it and the emergency management side of it needs to be more involved with how the sheriff interacts,” said Dixon, who added Haverkos himself said the operation can “be made to be better.”

“My goal is to make it better, I don’t have a pick for who is in charge, I’m interested in how to make it work best for the citizens of Butler County.”

The sheriff has been trying to overtake EMA for some time, but until recently the commissioners couldn’t entertain the notion because it was prohibited by state law. The takeover is legal now that State Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., inserted a provision in the transportation bill that allows the takeover.

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