Commission's Budget Plan Leads To Job Loss

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)--The Shawnee County Commission voted to eliminate the County Emergency Management Department in a contentious 2014 budget argument.

As it stands so far, the Shawnee County 2014 budget plan means people losing their jobs.

"Nobody is going to be happy because we are in a very tight budget
situation," said Shawnee County Commissioner, Bob Archer.

Emergency Management will take the largest hit. Commissioner Kevin Cook favored a merger.

"We can move Emergency Management at its 2014 proposed amount to the direction of the Shawnee County Sheriff,"said Cook.

He proposed that $121,783 of Emergency Management funds to be moved to Shawnee County Sheriff's office, an idea that Commissioner Shelly Buhler disagreed with.

"I don't think we can afford that as a community to not be prepared. I don't want to have to explain to the rest of the community we did not do this because we cut their budget," says Buhler.

But, a 2-1 vote with Buhler dissenting basically eliminated Emergency Management which means Emergency Management Director, Dave Sterbenz, is out of a job. Sterbenz says moving the department to the Sheriff's office gives him concern for community safety.

"You know once there is a disaster, or a major event, you can't go in right now and say, 'oh no we better call these people to see what we can do,'" says Sterbenz.

"The fact is if we have an emergency in Shawnee County, the Sheriff's office, Topeka Police Department, firefighters, Kansas National Guard--they are all going to be participating," says Commissioner Archer.

And when asked how it feels knowing this 2014 budget plan will lead to people losing their jobs, Archer says, "it feels terrible, yeah it feels terrible."

In remarks to Commissioner Archer's opinions, Sterbenz also said, "I'm sorry I didn't educate Archer on what exactly the Emergency Department does and how it works-it needs its own department."

Archer responded, "Sterbenz says he spends a lot of time training and not training. And unfortunately, it isn't a luxury we can afford."

Archer also said that since 2006 the Emergency Management's budget has increased 10 times the inflation rate. And Sterbenz says they have done 10 times more work since 2006.

Buhler says she has seen the Emergency Department with one director in the past and "everything was just lost," she says.

Sheriff Herman Jones told 13 News he "wouldn't have made the same decision." He says that the Emergency Management Department operates best as its own entity. He says that it will be difficult to operate under his office with less people and minimal operating costs. He is also concerned with the public's safety.

Sheriff Jones says he plans to speak with Commissioners before they finalize the 2014 budget Thursday.