Commissioners asked to contribute toward EMA operation

LISBON – FirstEnergy is asking Columbiana County commissioners to begin contributing something toward the operation of the county Emergency Management Agency.

The request came from Glenn McKee, manager of fleet emergency preparedness for the First Energy Nuclear Operating Co., a subsidiary of FirstEnergy, during a meeting with commissioners to discuss a new contract for 2014-15.

Because a portion of the county falls within 15 miles of First Energy’s nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pa., EMAs in those counties are required to have an emergency response plan in the event of an accident at the plant. As part of that federal mandate, FirstEnergy has helped fund county EMAs in the area for nearly 30 years.

McKee told commissioners Columbiana County is the only one of the county EMAs in the Shippingport zone they help fund that contributes nothing toward the agency’s operations. He suggested the county contribute $10,000.

The EMA’s 2013 budget consists of $234,000 from First Energy and a $41,494 grant from the Ohio EMA, plus a carryover balance from the previous year in the amount of $73,688. McKee said they would like to begin cutting back on some of their contribution to reduce the balance, which is expected to otherwise grow to $122,000.

McKee said they were particularly troubled by the fact the new EMA director, Luke Newbold, was hired in January by commissioners at $59,000 and expected to receive additional pay raises over the next year once he earns required certifications. He said the directors in the other EMAs earn no more than $50,500, which is what the county’s former EMA director was being paid when he quit last summer. He asked commissioners to contribute at least enough to cover 90 percent of Newbold’s salary.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck defended their decision to hire Newbold, a Navy SEAL, at a higher salary. “I’d rather pay good money for someone to do a good job than two people to do a mediocre job,” he said.

Halleck said what they pay Newbold should be irrelevant as long as it is within the FirstEnergy allocation, but McKee said they have other county EMAs to deal with. He is concerned the other directors will want to be similarly compensated, throwing the pay scale out of whack.

“That’s your management problem,” Halleck told him.

Meanwhile, McKee suggested pay raises were in order for EMA Deputy Director Edie Dillard and Administrative Assistant Lisa Elliott, and First Energy would be fine with that. Commissioners balked at that, noting Elliott was just hired last year and that Dillard received a significant increase when she was named deputy director.

Halleck appeared to grow increasingly frustrated with the discussion, telling McKee, “You all do what you have to do and we’ll have to do what we have to do.”

Then Halleck told McKee, “Who’s your boss? Go tell him to meet with us,” and then left the meeting for what he said was another appointment.

McKee continued to meet with commissioners Jim Hoppel and Tim Weigle, telling them FirstEnergy has been paying its fair share for years as the EMA’s responsibilities branched off beyond the nuclear power plant into other areas of emergency preparedness.

He said another reason the county should begin contributing is to help cover maintenance of the EMA building, which was built by FirstEnergy about eight years ago.

Weigle assured McKee they would come up with a contract satisfactory to both sides. “Give us some time and we’ll figure something out,” he said.