Potential EMA-911 merger still on the table

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 16, 2019

When former EMA director Jeanna Barnes resigned from the position in September 17, the Pike County Commission decided to consider changing the structure of the agency by combining it with the 911 office.

Now 17 months later, the county is at a sticking point with the process after creating a plan and discussing it with stakeholders in September 2018.

Chairman Robin Sullivan said the county is still waiting to hear more from those stakeholders, which are the cities of Troy and Brundidge, towns of Goshen and Banks, and Troy University.

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“It would allow the EMA to be something that would serve the entire community and not just have the sound of serving the Pike County Commission,” Sullivan said. “That’s not he case anyway; we wanted everyone to have the chance to have some input and have a way for it to go throughout the entire county.”

Pike County 911 Director Chris Dozier said the proposal is for the two entities to share costs in four key areas to make both departments.

“There are four cost-share items that 911 will bill the EMA for: personnel, vehicles, technology and the facility,” Dozier said.

The current pitch is for three full-time employees and one part-time worker that could be utilized by both the EMA and 911. The EMA has typically had a full-time director and part-time staffer and the 911 office has two full-time employees.

By merging the two offices, the current 911 Board would become the Emergency Management and Communications Board (EMA-911 Board).

“Those would all be the new EMA-911 Board’s employees,” Dozier said. “We would be paying the salaries and EMA would be paying the management fees to reimburse 911 for its portion.”

Sullivan said the merger would not be a cost-savings to the county, even if other entities did commit to providing additional funding for the agency.

“It wasn’t the point to save the commission money,” Sullivan said. “Savings wasn’t really the goal, it was to bring the community together for the same positive purpose. It wouldn’t have lessened our cost or the city’s cost; they would actually both go up it a little bit.”

Dozier said stakeholders would need to invest approximately $170,000 toward the agency, leaving about $95,000 after the county commitment.

In the past, the county commission has allocated approximately $75,000 each year to the agency with the City of Troy appropriating $10,000 annually and Brundidge giving $1,200.

Dozier said the budget splits the remaining $95,000 between stakeholders of Troy, Brundidge, Banks, Goshen and Troy University. There is also the Emergency Management Performance Grant that typically brings $30,000 in revenue to cover some of those expenses, although there’s no guarantee that the grant will be awarded in any given year.

Dozier said the biggest increase in costs is personnel, with three full-time employees planned to be shared by both offices.

“You need more people, more warm bodies period,” Dozier said. “It’s impossible for one person to be in two places at once. When something happens of a nature that EMA is needed – a tornado does not touch down at one point. There’s not one point of damage and that’s it; it has a path. So while you’re doing damage assessments, you also have to be reporting to various agencies what type of damage we’re looking at and finding resources available for Pike County.”

There is no timeline for a decision about the merger according to Sullivan and Dozier.