LISBON - A tentative agreement has been reached with FirstEnergy Corp to continue providing the majority of funding for the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency.
The agreement was announced this week by county Commissioner Tim Weigle, who was designated to negotiate and sign the new contract on behalf of the board. Weigle said he has done that and it has been forwarded to FirstEnergy, which is expected to also approve the agreement.
The contract, among other things, requires commissioners to begin contributing toward county EMA operations.
"For years, FENOC has graciously agreed to fund us at 100 percent while the county was having financial difficulty," Weigle said.
FENOC stands for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. Because the EMA is required to have an emergency response plan in the event of an accident at FENOC's nuclear power plant in nearby Shippingport, Pa., FirstEnergy has helped fund EMA operations in counties within 15 miles of the plant for the past 30 years.
During a May meeting with commissioners to discuss a new contract, FirstEnergy's Glenn McKee noted the county was the only one within the Shippingport zone that failed to contribute any money to EMA operations.
The new two-year contract requires commissioners to begin contributing 2.5 percent toward EMA operations, increasing by the same increment in 2015, with the understanding it would continue to do so annually until the county's share reaches 10 percent in 2017.
"They're pushing us to get to funding at least 10 percent of the cost," Weigle said. The county's share would amount to $5,354 next year and $11,338 in 2015.
The EMA's 2013 budget consisted of $234,000 from FirstEnergy and $41,394 from the Ohio EMA, with a year-end carryover balance expected to top $100,000. Under the new contract, FirstEnergy will end up contributing $194,000 each year - $40,000 less - because one of its goals was to slow the continued growth of the carryover balance, which is based largely on its annual contribution.
One concession FirstEnergy failed to get from commissioners was having any say in the salary of EMA Director Luke Newbold, who was hired in January for $59,000 - an $8,500 increase over the person he replaced. McKee said the other EMA directors in the Shippingport zone earn no more than $50,500, which is one of the reasons why commissioners were asked to contribute 10 percent.
Weigle said the final agreement submitted by FirstEnergy included specific figures for EMA salaries, benefits and other expenses, which he removed. "I didn't care for them telling us how we're going to spend the money, so we whited that out," he said.
Weigle said he is going to take up FirstEnergy's suggestion they begin asking oil and gas companies active in the area to begin contributing toward EMA operations as drilling operations in the county increase, and with it the potential for well-related accidents.
"We should begin talking to them about helping fund the EMA," he said.