City agrees to fund emergency management

Fort Dodge City Council members decided Monday to provide about $24,000 for the Webster County Emergency Management Agency while continuing to push for more oversight on the spending of that money.

The elected officials directed City Manager David Fierke to include a property tax levy of 4 cents per $1,000 of taxable value in the proposed 2014-2015 budget.

That levy would generate $24,374.99 for the Emergency Management Agency, which handles disaster planning and response.

”Put the levy on, but if they don’t do something within a year, you’ll never get my vote again,” Councilman Kim Alstott said.

The ”something” that Alstott and his fellow council members want to see done within a year is a change which would give Fort Dodge more influence on the commission that governs the Emergency Management Agency. Now, the city has just one vote on that body.

However, any such change would be contrary to state law and an opinion from the state attorney general’s office, according to Tony Jorgensen, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Mayor Matt Bemrich, who represents the city on the Emergency Management Commission, initially urged the council to withhold any money unless the city receives more power on it.

”We’re being asked to fund 50 percent of the budget, but we have just one vote,” he said. ”We’re not really controlling how our money is spent. I really don’t feel that it’s fair.”

He said he believes the attorney general’s opinion cited by Jorgensen is outdated because of changes in state law that have occurred since it was written.

The city officials said they are concerned about the structure of the Emergency Management Commission, not the work of Jorgensen.

”It’s not about you,” Alstott told Jorgensen. ”Everything I hear about you – you’re doing a terrific job.”

State law requires every county to have an emergency management agency, but apparently doesn’t spell out how it should be paid for.

For several years, Fort Dodge levied a property tax of 3 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to support the agency. That tax was not levied for the current fiscal year.

The Webster County government is paying the full $58,500 local cost of the agency in this fiscal year. That local share is supplemented by a $30,000 Emergency Management Performance Grant from the state.

Webster County Supervisor Merrill Leffler told the council Monday that the request for funding is coming from the Emergency Management Commission, not the Board of Supervisors.

He said that last year, the commission asked the Board of Supervisors to fully fund emergency management. He said this year the board is objecting to that idea because it would place a disproportionate burden on residents of unincorporated parts of the county. He said the unincorporated areas have 20 percent of the population, but 60 percent of the county’s assessed property value.

”I don’t have a problem with funding it,” Bemrich said. ”I have a problem with not having representation over what we’re being asked to fund.”

Councilman Don Wilson said he thinks the efforts of council members would be better spent improving the troubled North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency.

”I want to support this,” Wilson said of the Emergency Management Agency. ”I see what you’re doing, Tony, and I think it’s a value to the city.”

Council members decided to seek a meeting with the Emergency Management Commission as soon as possible. They also indicated that they would like to get a fresh opinion from the office of Attorney General Tom Miller on the possibility of restructuring the commission to give Fort Dodge more votes.