A dispute over emergency management funding in Evans County may soon mean a heated discussion between the City of Claxton and the Evans County Board of Commissioners.
At Monday’s regular council meeting Monday, the Claxton City Council discussed the recent relocation of Claxton-Evans County EMA Director John Womble to the public safety building inside city limits. Womble now shares an office with the police and fire departments.
The City of Claxton and Evans County have been sharing the funding responsibility based on a Service Delivery Strategy Agreement put in place in 1998. The nearly 20-year-old agreement requires that both Evans County and the City of Claxton pay an equal share, specifically from their respective General Funds, and that Claxton is eligible to provide “in kind” funding by way of housing, utilities, and building maintenance. Per the agreement, Bellville, Daisy, and Hagan are not required to assist in funding the EMA.
City Administrator Carter Crawford told the council that the $12,000 annually contribution is paid out monthly. With Womble returning to the city office, Crawford said the in-kind contributions should be subtracted from the amount paid to the county for the city’s share.
Councilman Risher Willard asked Crawford for an estimate on housing, utilities, and maintenance. “Is it going to be a wash? Phone, internet, utilities, so it’s conceivable it could be $1,000 a month,” Willard pressed, implying the City would pay no cash funding toward the EMA upon the return of Womble.
Womble pays his own phone and Internet out of his own budget. Crawford said, “Several hundred dollars anyway. Water, sewer, gas, and square footage for the office.”
Councilman Mel Kelly expressed concern over funding, saying two years ago he attempted to remove the city’s share of funding because the requirement for an EMA is a state-mandate put into effect for counties, not cities. He told other council members he was told in 2015 that two years remained on the Service Agreement and no changes could be made.
Crawford told the Council that the agreement went on “forever” and had no end date. The paperwork provided, however, began on Page 2, indicating there may me more details elsewhere on the agreement. Crawford provided the written protocol from the Department of Community Affairs on revising a Service Strategy Agreement which calls for one of the following situations in order to amend the service strategy agreement:
- If a local government updates its comprehensive plan;
- Whenever necessary in order to change service delivery or revenue distribution arrangements;
- Whenever necessary due to changes in revenue distribution agreements;
- In the event of the creation, abolition, or consolidation of local governments;
- When existing service delivery strategy agreement expires; or
- Whenever the county and affected municipalities agree to revise the strategy.
It makes no mention of how to terminate the agreement.
Willard told Council, “I can’t imagine this being a legal document. There is not a signature on here for anybody from the City.” Crawford said the Service Delivery Agreement package has signatures from mayors and members of the county commission, but conceded he only provided a single page for Monday’s meeting.
Kelly asked if the City had been in violation of the agreement for the last two years as Womble operated out of the County Annex. Councilwoman Tina Hagan said, “No, they asked him to go over there.”
Councilman Dean Cameron said the county is not allowing Womble to use his money. “They took his money and put it in an account and he couldn’t get it. I remember the Mayor wrote a letter to Mr. Pinckard asking him to the put that money back into the General Fund where it belongs or back into John’s account and to this day, they’ve never done it.”
Hagan echoed, “I remember that.” But Kelly said that’s between Womble and the County and doesn’t have anything to do with the City.
Willard told council he just has an issue with how the City’s portion is being paid, who is providing for who, and what the city is getting for that. “If it’s true that he does not have access to the funds that we provide, then that absolutely has to change.”
“At one point, the city was in charge of the money it contributed, but somehow or another, the county mandated that that money go to them, so when it transferred from the city back to the county, the county did something with it, and I don’t know where it went, but John didn’t have access to it,” Kelly said.
Mayor Terry Branch said he contacted the county for a copy of the budget for the EMA for FY 2018 and council will revisit the issue at the July meeting. “I think a copy of the budget will answer a lot of questions.”
“I think some conversation with the county and having some documentation will help,” Councilman Larry Anderson said. “We need to get some clarity on it.”