HUDSON — Columbia County is considering making the Office of Emergency Management an independent county department.
The county is discussing the idea of declaring the office its own department. It is currently part of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
This potential shift has some county Democrats concerned.
“This is a proposal that hasn’t been studied,” Columbia County Democratic Committee Chairman Sam Hodge said. “And there’s been no analysis done. There’s been no discussion of a transition process and we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, we’re in the middle of an emergency. So the lack of forethought, I find really troubling.”
Hodge called the situation a “case of sour grapes” that this potential shift was coming up now because Republican David Bartlett lost the sheriff’s race earlier this month, he said in a press release sent out Friday.
“Their candidate lost decisively and now, out of nowhere, they want to cut a quarter of a million dollars from the budget and take away important responsibilities from the sheriff’s control,” Hodge said. “The Republicans are playing politics with people’s safety and it’s not right.”
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said the financial figures Hodge included in his press release were inaccurate. He said the budget for Emergency Management is $139,000.
“Mr. Hodge is saying $250,000 would be ripped out of the Sheriff’s Department,” Murell said. “It’s actually $139,000, of which $65,000 is going to stay with the Sheriffs Department,” Murell said. “What we’re talking about is transferring $70,000 for the Emergency Management Office.”
The transfer will not affect anyone’s safety, Murell said.
“The budget line that would transfer with Emergency Management Office is already designated specifically for Emergency Management,” Murell said. “There’s no defunding anything as the funds will continue to be used as already designated.”
All county-level emergency coordinators who are not part of emergency management, such as the fire coordinator, EMS coordinator and 911 director have been contacted and they are in support of this move, Murell said.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee discussed the resolution at its meeting earlier this week. According to the resolution, supervisors consolidated the Office of Emergency Management within the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department under a resolution in 2011.
According to the new legislation, the purpose of the consolidation was to downsize government and reduce overall county costs without changing the responsibilities of the offices.
The idea of the Office of Emergency Management to be its own county department is not unique, with the exception of Albany County. That is how the rest of the counties in the state are, Murell said.
“At this point, if I had a say in it as sheriff, I wouldn’t want anything removed at this point,” said Columbia County Sheriff-elect Don Krapf. “I’d like to review more data on this and make a data-driven decision, and find out what the effects for the safety of this community are, what the effect on the budget is, how these assets are going to be allocated. There’s a lot of things to be reviewed, and for it to happen this quickly I don’t think would be well thought out.”
A special meeting will be scheduled to discuss the potential move in early-to-mid December with the full Board of Supervisors, Murell said. This would give people the opportunity to ask questions and get more information about the potential move. He said the sheriff’s office will be invited to attend.
“In my preliminary information that I received that night at the meeting from P.J. [Keeler, Columbia County EMS coordinator], from David Harrison, from the chairman, it sounds like it very well could be the right thing to do,” Board of Supervisors Minority Leader and New Lebanon Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling said. “But I’m very process-oriented, I don’t think it’s right to do anything without including the sheriff-elect in the conversation and I don’t see the rush.”
Houghtling said it would only be fair to allow the sheriff-elect to be part of the conversation. She would like to see the process slowed down so questions can be answered.
“Its a pretty big decision that we’re talking about and I would just like to see it be made in an informed way,” Houghtling said.