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home : news : news Tuesday, May 24, 2016

1/11/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Commission approves $46,000 cut in emergency management funding

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

The Clinton County Emergency Management Commission Jan. 8 agreed to forgo $46,598 in taxpayer funding to help the Clinton County Board of Supervisors offset a revenue shortfall resulting from the 2013 tax settlement for Archer Daniels Midland's (ADM) Clinton properties.

The move also reduces the emergency management agency's (EMA) projected carryover balance, addressing concerns from the county budget director the balance is too high, at more than 50 percent of the agency's annual budget.

Unlike most other county departments, which lose any funds not spent by the end of the fiscal year, the EMA has a rollover account used to cash-flow operations in between the fall and spring tax disbursements and in order to have cash on hand to fund emergency response items in the event of a disaster.

The EMA's carryover balance as of July 1 was $254,669, although EMA director Chance Kness noted not all of the agency's money comes from tax dollars. EMA also receives around $37,000 per year in revenue from conducting training exercises at the Exelon nuclear plant and additional funding in the form of state and federal emergency planning grants.

EMA will receive an estimated $463,000 in taxpayer funds in the current fiscal year (FY2014), which equates to a property tax levy of approximately 22 cents per $1,000 valuation.

Funding cuts in other departments will reduce their operating budgets, whereas the $46,598 reduction for emergency management will affect only the carryover funds and not the department's working budget, Kness noted.

"Even though it's technically ours, most of the money is from the county, and I think it's a reasonable request," Kness said.

Clinton County supervisor Brian Schmidt said the county needs to cut around $300,000 in expenditures to offset the tax credits ADM negotiated as part of its settlement with the city of Clinton.

Schmidt's other concern was the amount of EMA's carryover balance, which was projected to reach $295,000 prior to the reduction.

"At that balance, it would be 59 percent of the total expense. Twenty-five percent starts throwing up red flags for the (state) auditors," Schmidt said.

"The budget director understands emergency management is a different entity but has concerns with a carryover balance of 59 percent of expenses," he continued.

"What's the concern?" asked DeWitt mayor Don Thiltgen.

"I'm wondering do we need this much?" Schmidt replied.

A carryover of 25 percent of total expenses would be around $125,000, but Kness said that wouldn't be enough.

It takes that much to cash-flow the EMA in between tax disbursements, Kness said, and it's important to remember federal disaster funding can reimburse the county for approved expenses, but the EMA still has to have the money available up front.

"$125,000 isn't very large for a county this size and the types of things we would need to contract or purchase even in a mid-level disaster," Kness said.

Schmidt agreed. He said state auditors have not flagged the county in the past for a large balance in the EMA budget, but the budget director remains concerned.

"So if we don't ratchet it down, are they going to come and smack Chance around a bit?" Thiltgen asked.

Schmidt said he's more concerned about justifying the unspent balance to taxpayers since the county itself keeps its carryover balance in the 20-25 percent range.

"We wonder, is there a point where enough is enough, or do we trim the whole budget? That is a concern of the board," Schmidt said.

The reduction of $46,598 would put EMA on track for a $248,000 carryover balance when the fiscal year ends in June, just $6,000 shy of where it started the year and closer to 50 percent of total expenses, Schmidt said.

Kness said the proposed reduction makes sense.

"As far as the rollover going forward, at future meetings if you want to evaluate it, that's fine. I would caution you against putting an artificial cap on it because that's not the purpose," Kness said, adding the purpose of the fund is to allow EMA uninterrupted operations.

Welton mayor Glen Boswell said the reduction will still leave EMA's carryover well above the recommended 25 percent of expenses and attract the attention of state auditors.

"The auditors have never said one word to me about it, only the budget director," Kness said.

Following some further discussion, the commission unanimously approved the reduction in county funding.

"If the money doesn't come from here, they'll have to get it elsewhere. We're just doing our share," said Camanche mayor Ken Fahlbeck.

Budget review for FY 2015

In other budget work, the commission reviewed Kness' proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

No major changes are proposed, but there are minor reductions in line items for things like salaries, training and mileage due to the recent addition of Dan Vosatka as EMA's operations officer.

Kness is proposing an expense budget of $508,951.89, which is an increase of 1.9 percent over the current year.

EMA's budget also incorporates funding for the county communications department, currently estimated at around $986,000.

The consensus from the commission was to move forward with the budget as proposed, with final approval scheduled for a Feb. 19 meeting.

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