The city of Spokane will launch a new, independent office of emergency management next year, leaving Spokane County and many of the smaller area governments to manage – and pay for managing – emergencies on their own.
Mayor David Condon said the city’s decision to run its own emergency management is a best practice for a large, urban area like Spokane, and he emphasized the city plans to work alongside the county when it needs to.
But Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who oversees the county’s office, said the decision showed a “lack of forethought” from city leaders, and said it is one of several collaborations between the two governments that have fallen apart in recent years.
“The city of Spokane seems dead set on destroying any regional concepts,” he said.
Knezovich said the city will be breaking decades of precedent by ending a long-time beneficial arrangement. He said he was also frustrated that taxpayers will pay for an existing service twice.
For the city’s new emergency management office to move forward, Spokane City Council still needs to approve the 2020 budget, which includes $265,000 for the new office.
Spokane currently contributes about $210,000 to the Greater Spokane Emergency Management office’s local emergency management budget. The city’s contribution amounts to about 43% of the Greater Spokane Emergency Management office’s local budget.
Department Deputy Directory Chandra Fox said the county uses that money to match federal grants, which make up half of the total money the department has to spend.
Many of the services her department provides are mandated by state and federal laws, and she said reducing them is not an option.
The county is now developing a plan to make up for the loss of those city funds, said Spokane County CEO Gerry Gemmill.
The Greater Spokane Emergency Management office, which currently covers the entire county, is in charge of planning ahead for emergencies, training, alerting the public and helping the county recover.
The office also applies for federal recovery money to help pay for damage and loss once an emergency is over.
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the city’s new emergency management office will work to address more city-specific emergencies and prepare for emerging threats, such as cyber security issues.
He said the new office will allow them to continue working with the county when they need to, but they will have a dedicated employee who will only focus on preparing and handling emergencies in Spokane.
Spokane Mayor David Condon acknowledged the city’s decision to leave Greater Spokane Emergency Management is not the only area government collaboration to fail recently. The city of Spokane also has resisted joining the new Spokane Regional Communications Center, though it is relying on it for emergency communications and dispatch services.
But Condon noted there are many other successful collaborations, such as the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service and the three area public development authorities.
“Each of those (collaborations) are different,” Condon said. “And I have been disappointed with some, but some are national models.”
He said collaborations are often difficult to get going and that the city needs to look at the agreements they are in to evaluate how they serve constituents.
City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said the city having its own emergency management office doesn’t mean it can’t collaborate when regionwide issues arise. She said many other cities manage their own emergencies and that the city needs some autonomy when dealing with issues within its borders.
“I think we need to be nimble,” she said. “We use what we have when it’s a local issue, and if it’s regional, we collaborate.”
She said she still needed to research the issue further and hadn’t heard from other council members about whether they support its inclusion in the 2020 budget.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said that, even if the council approves the budget for the new office, the city still could rejoin the county’s emergency management agreement, depending on who is mayor.
Stuckart said he didn’t necessarily support or oppose the new office, but was open to talking to county commissioners.
“You should be looking at this on a case-by-case basis to see if that is what makes sense for citizens,” he said. “This one, I haven’t been brought into the discussions on. … We are pulling out of county emergency management, and I think it deserves a second look.”
Stuckart’s opponent in the race for mayor, Nadine Woodward, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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