Bredesen announces grants

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   Money from the first of two Homeland Security grants announced more than a year ago finally has made it's way to the state level, and $8.34 million for equipment and training could be distributed to local first responders as early as July.
   Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Thursday that the State of Tennessee will receive nearly $11 million in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Of that amount, Bredesen said 87 percent will be passed to the local level -- 7 percent more than mandated by the federal government. Bredesen has pledged to push "every possible dime" in federal homeland security funding down to local governments.
   Local jurisdictions will receive $6.7 million for equipment, $1.6 million to conduct homeland security exercises, and $110,000 for ongoing training programs. The remainder, with the exception of $300,000 to be held for security upgrades in state buildings, will be used to establish regional Homeland Security offices to support local jurisdictions and to buy equipment.
   Of the state's 95 counties, the minimum any county will receive is $30,000; the maximum is $400,000. Locally, $60,000 has been earmarked for Carter County; Washington and Sullivan will receive $175,000 each; Johnson and Unicoi, $30,000 each; Greene, Hawkins, and Hamblen, $60,000 each. Knox and Davidson counties each will receive the full $400,000.
   Rick Shipkowski, deputy director of the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, said Thursday that the money was divided based on population brackets rather than vulnerability or demonstration of need.
   "Tennessee received a grant from the federal government based on population, and that's how we distributed this national grant. I know the Department of Homeland Security is eventually going to try to distribute based on threat and vulnerability, but that could be a while. The good news on this is the state is passing down more money than we needed to and that's kind of a first. Normally, each level takes off what they can," Shipkowski said.
   "But the message was clear this time: 'Push down as much as we can,' and that's what we'll keep doing in the future. That really helps because when something happens, local jurisdictions are the first to respond. 911 doesn't ring up here in my office; it rings its own police department or fire department. We're hoping this money helps them out."
   Shipkowski said the money will be issued to county executives, and it will be up to them to decide how to distribute it. "They will be encouraged to put together a team of first responders and figure out how to best spend the money within the county. There is some significant flexibility as to how it is done, but it really should be a team effort. It can't be a bunch of isolated entities."
   The fiscal year 2002-03 grant availability was announced in March 2002. Tennessee applied for the money in April 2002.
   Eight months into the fiscal year, Shipkowski said, "It has taken a while to come down, but that's because of the problems they had agreeing on the appropriations in Congress. Once the bill was passed, it worked very quickly under the new Department of Homeland Security."
   If everything is done correctly at the local level, first responders should start seeing the money in July, Shipkowski said. Counties must fill out a budget detail worksheet and explain what they're going to spend the money on, he said. "We in the federal government have to agree that it's authorized equipment, then they buy it and the federal government reimburses them."
   Carter County Executive Dale Fair said the letter he received Thursday evening from Homeland Security "just says that Carter County is eligible to apply for a Homeland Security Grant Program subgrant in the amount of $60,000," with the money earmarked for communication -- personal and protective -- and detection equipment.
   "It says, 'We recommend that you convene a Homeland Security planning committee of local leaders, which includes sheriff, police chief, fire chief, EMA, and emergency medical, and determine the equipment that's needed which will most effectively support your county's requirement. We strongly recommend that you work with adjacent counties ...' "
   Fair said a local homeland security planning committee was set up under EMA Director Jim Burrough and has already met. Carter County has submitted a grant request with a neighboring county, he said, "so we're hopefully ahead of the other ones on that."
   The Tennessee Department of Military has been designated the state administrative agent for the grant and in turn has designated the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) as the agency to process the subgrant, Fair said. Requests must be received by TEMA by the close of business May 23.
   Fair said the local homeland security committee will meet again Wednesday, and he will put the grant request on the table for consideration. The committee already has a "wish list," he said, and "things that are on the table that we've already talked about that we need, that's going to get first priority."
   By working with other counties, Fair said, duplication in acquisition of equipment can be avoided. "Say that two or three of us order the same thing, and while it would be good to have it jointly, not every one of us needs it. Then they will come back and say, 'Why don't Carter County take this and we'll give Sullivan, or Unicoi, or Johnson this, and that way you all can share?'
   "If everybody got one particular item, then you would have redundancy," Fair said. "That's why there is a paragraph that says 'We strongly recommend that you work with adjacent counties,' to make sure that you have a consistent request."