MANDEVILLE, La. -- St. Tammany Parish leaders are making their presence known to lawmakers in Baton Rouge in an effort to reverse proposed cuts to emergency operations funding across the state.
Parish President Pat Brister and Emergency Operations Director Dexter Accardo attended a hearing Tuesday and testified with other parish leaders about the various consequences that could come with reducing the amount of federal money that’s normally sent down to local governments on the front lines of disasters.
The current proposed state budget for next fiscal year calls for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or GOHSEP, to keep the majority of any money sent from the federal government, which will be about $2 million, and divvy up the remaining $1.3 million across Louisiana’s 64 parishes, based on population.
For many parishes, it could mean shutting down the emergency operations completely. In St. Tammany, it means only $20,000 from the feds and state to deal with possible river floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and Hazmat emergencies.
That’s an 80 percent cut.
"Just like anything else, you get dependent, you build a progressive program, so things that we are looking at doing in the future, or things that we have on the board now, we have to take a hard look to find the funding to make those things happen," Accardo said.
One of the efforts that could be affected in the long-run is a program set to get off the ground next week. It's an alert system by St. Tammany Parish to send you emergency messages through your cell phone.
"It is so much more efficient to do the work where the rubber meets the road. We're here, we know what it is, we're ready and to have to go to the state or other agency to get help, it's not efficient," Brister said.
GOHSEP Director Kevin Davis, who’s also the former St. Tammany Parish President, said he believes the state level of emergency operations should be the strongest, and that played into the budget decision.
Davis said the money is used for training, planning and supporting parishes, and many other states keep the majority of its federal grant money at the state level. Davis says he believes parish directors are qualified and trained enough already, so any more money should only be needed for materials and assets, which he says, parishes have gotten millions for in recent years.
"They should be developing plans for their parish from a threat-analysis and anything that needs to fill a gap is what you would use these dollars for," Davis said.
So St. Tammany leaders are hoping lawmakers hear their story and change the plan. They’ll return to the capitol next week to talk with the Senate about the concerns, and any time the topic is scheduled this session.