A house bill currently under debate in the State House Finance and Appropriations Committee could change the structure of the Emergency Management Agency in Muskingum County.
House Bill 59 isn’t likely to be voted on until mid April, but already it’s creating a stir. The bill would allow county commissioners to place the sheriff in charge of the Emergency Management Agency.
While there has bee no formal discussion between the sheriff, commissioners or EMA all three oppose the idea.
"It’s a situation where we are always willing to help out," said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz. "Right now there is really no rhyme or reason to change what we’re doing."
"They are both efficient organizations," added Commissioner Jim Porter. "I don’t see how they can both consolidate."
"I think it’s working well the way it is," said EMA Director Bo Keck. "The duties that both of us have are totally different between the sheriff and the EMA."
Sheriff Lutz said he first heard about the bill at a legislative meeting where a discussion arose about how to combine services. The sheriff said already his office is overwhelmed with unfunded mandates such as the sex offender registry and concealed carry permits.
"Our office is swamped right now with CCW’s," explained Sheriff Lutz. "After the school shooting and everything the applications are way up. People are coming from other counties to our county because we’re getting them done quicker and so we’re swamped with that."
Commissioners also don’t believe there would be much of a savings.
"I kind of see this as consolidating when you do that there’s got to be a savings and it’s got to be some type of efficiency," said Commissioner Porter. "You still have to provide services and I don’t see any savings here because it’s all still coming out of the general fund."
Keck agrees the county would have little to gain through this plan. He said the roles of the sheriff and EMA are different when responding to an emergency situation.
"We are a support agency only," said Keck. "We’re not first responders. They get there and call us and I think putting EMA into the sheriff would kind of conflict that a little bit."
Keck said there are also a lot of mandates about where money can be used and he feels statewide sheriffs may not understand these burdens. He said he plans to talk with Senator Troy Balderson and Representative Brian Hill about the issue.
An EMA conference next month will tackle House Bill 59.
Last week Guernsey County became the first in our area to put the sheriff in charge of the EMA.
House Bill 59 would also put the sheriff in charge of the dog wardens.