County to hire emergency manager

FAIRMONT – Facing more requirements for emergency management, Martin County commissioners on Tuesday debated the need for a full-time director before approving the new position.

Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency both are pushing for a full-time director. Martin County had appointed a dispatcher to work on emergency management part time, but that has left the county’s program out of compliance.

“What it comes down to is your department says you need it, and our department says, ‘We don’t have the money,'” commission chairman Elliot Belgard told Martin County Sheriff Jeff Mark-quart.

However, a grant is available that would cover up to $21,000 of the emergency management director’s pay. The remaining amount would have to be matched.

With a preliminary budget for 2014 already approved, Belgard asked the Sheriff’s Department how it would cover remaining costs.

“We’re about as thin as we can get,” Markquart admitted. “If we cut, it will end up being from services to the public.”

“We’ve been falling short in emergency management,” said Capt. Corey Klanderud. “We pulled a person from dispatch to work on it, but now we have a shortage of dispatchers. The part-timers and overtime are adding up.”

There are also the state and federal standards looming.

“They are looking for an extra body, not to combine it with something else,” Klanderud said.

There was another catch: if the county chose to ignore the requirement for a full-time director, it would lose eligibility for many grants.

Commissioners still believe that some other light responsibilities could be added to the new position, such as bookkeeping or grant writing.

Commissioner Steve Pierce wasn’t sold at all.

“If we lose the grant, so what,” he said. “It’s gotten so out of hand; all it is is spending people’s time and money playing out every worst-case scenario. We cannot fund all contingencies out there.”

“I’m sick of adding to government,” said Commissioner Dan Schmidtke. “But either we approve this and get money to help, or we don’t and have to do it anyway and it will cost us more in overtime.”

“We tried with a part-time person and it didn’t work,” Klanderud said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to make it work.”

Schmidtke made a motion to approve a full-time position. It passed 3-2, with Belgard voting in favor, along with Schmidtke and Commissioner Steve Flohrs. Pierce and Commissioner Steve Donnelly dissented.

“We can’t fund it all, but we better be ready,” Belgard said. “If something does happen, people expect us to be ready and it is our duty to the people of this county to protect them.”