MEMA cuts shouldn’t hurt county

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2016

State budgets took a big hit during the recently completed legislative session due to revenue shortfalls, which has several agencies concerned. But one state agency that is worried about its level of providing services to residents more so than others is the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

MEMA’s budget has been slashed to 48 percent of full funding, which has the head of the agency concerned that residents will not be protected from natural disasters.

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Former director Robert Latham requested a budget of $3.8 million and was given $3.2 million, which is well below the $6.1 million the agency received following Hurricane Katrina. Director Lee Smithson, who took over MEMA in February, said the slash in the budget has “become a life safety issue” and counties will feel the brunt of the impact.

“We’re not first responders and don’t claim to be, but we’re the ones who help when the counties get into recovery mode and if we can’t do that, it’s the counties that suffer,” Smithson told the Clarion-Ledger recently.

2016 has been a busy year for disasters in the state. Through April, there had been 33 confirmed tornadoes in the state, not to mention the flooding issues that have plagued the Mississippi Delta and other areas. And hurricane season is less than month away. Fortunately, Lafayette County has been spared for the most part from weather-related disasters this year.

Lafayette County Emergency Management Agency Director David Shaw said he doesn’t foresee any immediate direct negative impact on the county due to the cuts that have been made to MEMA.

“Unless things get really out of hand, such as a direct hit from a tornado, we handle most everything ourselves,” Shaw said. “When it comes to a disaster like a tornado severe enough we get a federal disaster declaration, that is when FEMA steps in for possible assistance for reimbursement to the county, for instance, to respond to a disaster like that and also provide individual assistance to help homeowners recover.”

Shaw said there is a regional adviser from MEMA assigned to the county “that we deal with directly when we need additional resources.

“They may cut back travel some and we may not see them as much in the county on a regular basis, but right now, I don’t see a direct negative impact on us.”

Shaw said the Emergency Management Performance Grant, a federal grant issued to each state’s emergency management agency, could be changed. Currently MEMA gives 60 percent of the EMPG money to the county emergency management programs based on a formula that includes population.

“It is possible that the state budget cuts could affect how this money is distributed,” Shaw said. “However, I don’t think we would see any immediate changes in our day-to-day operations due to the state cuts to MEMA.”