INSIDE WASHINGTON/Security pay day
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released nearly $3 billion in homeland security funding last month to help cities and counties pay for terrorism-related expenses. The agency will send the money directly to governors, who will distribute the funds to cities and counties. The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) estimates that local governments will begin receiving the money by February.
The funding is divided into four categories, including $1.7 billion for equipment, creating emergency plans and conducting training exercises for first responders. Urban areas will be eligible to receive additional funding from a $725 million allocation solely dedicated to securing high-density population zones. That money will help urban areas “prevent, respond and recover from acts of terrorism,” according to a DHS advisory.
Local police officers will receive $500 million of the new funds to help identify and prevent terrorists from using weapons of mass destruction. Another $35 million is allocated to the Citizen Corps Program, which will help cities and counties train residents to identify and deter potential terrorist activities, as well as assist first responders during crises.
Although local governments will receive at least 80 percent of the new homeland security funds, USCM objects to state governments distributing them. Its executive director, Tom Cochran, says that governors wield considerable influence over which local governments receive the money and that half of the mayors polled in a recent USCM survey said they had no input in how homeland security funds would be distributed. “Mayors remain concerned that homeland security funds are still flowing through states, especially since many cities have not yet seen fiscal year ’03 money,” he says.
USCM is working on legislation that would allow the funding to go directly to cities and counties, but approval of such a divisive bill during a presidential election year is doubtful. Still, not all organizations representing local officials oppose the states doling out the money — a rare schism between groups that frequently align when lobbying Congress on federal matters.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Counties (NACo) supports state distribution of the money, saying that method helps ensure that adjoining jurisdictions do not purchase similar equipment or engage in identical training exercises. “We believe the state has a coordinating role to play in bringing units of local governments together to ensure the efficiency of all grant funding,” says Dalen Harris, an associate legislative director for NACo. “We think there really needs to be some type of systematic approach.”
NLC spokesman Mike Reinemer says his organization supports sending homeland security funding directly to cities and towns, but right now the association is not actively trying to change the DHS distribution plan.
Minnetonka, Minn., Mayor Karen Anderson says if the states continue to be responsible for distributing the money, then she would like to see the system revamped. “I would like the distribution system to be refined to make it more responsive and more direct from states to cities and towns,” Anderson says.
The author is Washington correspondent for American City & County.