Butler County sheriff working on an EMA-takeover proposal

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is preparing a proposal for the county commissioners to take over the county’s Emergency Management Agency.

Both the Butler County EMA and Jones’ office sent help to the Dayton area in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes Tuesday, and he says he can save taxpayers money if he were the one in charge of emergency management countywide.

“We’re preparing for that soon and it will save large amounts of money, as compared to what it costs to operate now,” he said. “And still have the same service, if not a better service.”

Jones said he wasn’t prepared to give dollar amounts because they are still working on the details, but from the work done to-date the cost-savings are certain.

RELATED: Butler County EMA, sheriff assisting with tornado relief in Dayton

The 2019 EMA budget is around $400,000, about $300,000 for operations — funded by local jurisdictions and federal grants — and another $100,000 for special teams like Hazmat. The sheriff has said previously he could save on things like personnel if he absorbed the agency under his operation.

The EMA is run by Director Matt Haverkos and three full-time employees, who report to an independent board of local stakeholders. The agency organizes local first responders for major disasters, such as Hurricane Ike in 2008 that left thousands locally without power for days and diminished the county’s water supply. The agency has responded across the country in recent years providing hurricane relief, incident management and other assistance.

Haverkos said the sheriff has never presented a plan before that points out inefficiencies or deficiencies, and it should be up to the EMA board to consider a change in the status quo.

“Put together a plan and present it to the emergency management board because that’s a cross section of the entire county that oversees emergency management on a regular basis, and has all disciplines looking at it from the medical side to the law enforcement side, the fire side, the elected officials side and even citizens,” he said.

“Those folks weigh in on the decisions we make in terms of resources, allocation of grant funding and the capabilities we choose to fund on an annual basis.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said he’ll reserve judgment on the proposition until the sheriff presents his plan.

“We’ll look at it from all sides and see if we can make something better or improve what we’ve got,” he said, but noted there are a number of potentially knotty problems.

“How does the old agreement that have affect the funding,” he said. “If we change it, how does that funding stream work. A lot of it’s federal money, can it go somewhere other the EMA board.”

MORE: Butler County’s sheriff has tried to gain control of EMA for a decade. Now, it could happen

The sheriff has been trying to overtake EMA for decades, but until recently the commissioners said they 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.

The amendment allows a county between 350,000 and 400,000 in population to enter into a four-year contract with a county sheriff or countywide fire department. Butler is the only county that qualifies.

Coley said this measure would be a pilot program, and three of the four Butler County legislators voted in favor of it.

“We’re trying to give our local governments options to maintain or improve services at a lower cost,” he said.

Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown was the lone naysayer but the measure has drawn opposition from other areas, like the Butler County Fire Chief’s Association.

Oxford Fire Chief John Detherage, president of the BCFCA, said they oppose the measure — and will do so actively to the commissioners — because the EMA shouldn’t be under the rule of one man.

“The EMA should be a non-political operation that has the ability to serve everybody equally,” Detherage said.

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