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Richmond, KY
5:17 pm, April 16, 2024
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Richmond, Berea, and Madison County address challenges CSEPP exit presents in budgets

Andy McDonald-Guest Columnist

When Madison County, Richmond and Berea lived in the shadow of a deadly chemical weapons stockpile, the three local governments and their first responding agencies worked together on a plan to mitigate a potential accident or disaster at the Blue Grass Army Depot.

Now that over 500 tons of chemical weapons at the depot have been destroyed, officials face a new challenge: How to pay for emergency services in the three communities when federal disaster preparedness funding comes to an end.

To come to terms with the problem, the three governments have formed a post-CSEPP task force comprised of Richmond Police Chief Rodney Richardson, Madison County Fire Chief/EMA Director Tim Gray, Berea Fire Chief Shawn Sandlin, Madison County Director of Information Technology Chris Iseral, Richmond City Manager Rob Minerich, and Berea City Administrator Rose Beverly.

Richardson said the work of the task force is critical because the three local communities have come to depend on Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) funding to address emergency preparedness. With that funding set to expire as early as March of 2025, Richmond, Berea and Madison County will have to foot the bill for a wide range of equipment and services that have been paid for with federal dollars since the 1990s.

“For my entire career, CSEPP has paid for radios, police cars, and fire trucks,” Richardson said. “They pay to maintain the entire radio infrastructure and the towers that are all through the county. When that funding goes away, there’s currently no money to replace it.”

Along with day-to-day equipment used by first responders, local governments will lose other benefits, such as funding for the Madison County Emergency Management Center/911 dispatch center and the maintenance of emergency sirens – advantages county residents have always taken for granted. “We’ve had it good for so long that most people who live here don’t know what it means for CSEPP to pull out,” Richardson said.

Determining how much money the three governments are going to need in the future is a complicated matter, according to Madison County Fire Chief/Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Gray.

Gray said his department faces future costs to replace fire apparatus, command vehicles, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to fight fires, along with other equipment that had been fully funded.

Berea Fire Department Chief Shawn Sandlin said his agency is confronted with the same dilemma. CSEPP funding helped pay for the purchase of a tanker, a ladder truck, and other equipment for Berea, but the additional costs of maintaining and eventually replacing that equipment will continue long after CSEPP is gone.

“Once we’ve got it, we have to maintain it, and that will mean future costs to the city,” Sandlin said.

Determining how to ensure public safety at a level local citizens have come to expect will be a challenge, Sandlin said. Because of that, the post-CSEPP task force has met often in recent weeks, discussing strategies to streamline services and cut costs, while trying to find new sources of funding.

“We’re figuring out what is necessary, keeping only the things that we need for the community and letting go of the things that might not be as necessary now that CSEPP is going away,” Sandlin said. “It’s a balancing act, but I think we’re on the right track.”

In the weeks ahead, officials will project how much it will cost their respective agencies to replace CSEPP money, then propose budget alternatives. As steep as that challenge is, Richardson said it’s important that inter-agency cooperation has begun.  

“It’s a tough spot that we’re in, but I think there are other communities out there where CSEPP funding has ended but there’s been no planning on how they’re going to be funded after,” Richardson said. “So, for some, services will just get cut. We don’t want that for Madison County. We want someone to be able to pick up the phone, and when they call 911, a first responder will be dispatched.”

Richardson said because the three governments and their respective first responders already have a good track record of cooperation and mutual aid when it comes to disaster preparedness, it should make finding a common solution easier.

“We couldn’t do it by ourselves – Richmond, Madison or Berea,” Richardson said. “There would be no way any of us could do this alone, but it’s something that we have to do together to sustain public safety.”

The Task Force meets tomorrow, Thursday March 21, 2024 to make their recommendations to the local governments.

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