It was good news for states like Arizona when Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced last November that more than $2.2 billion dollars in fiscal year 2004 grant funding would be available.
The state is slated see $41.4 million of that money; 80 percent will be filtered down to first responders of local governments like Pima County and the city of Tucson. But for some local agencies, security money is only trickling in.
"There's never been enough money to meet all the needs of all the local response agencies," says Les Caid, deputy chief of the Tucson Fire Department and coordinator of Metropolitan Medical Response System. "All disasters are 'local'; that's what we've been preaching. It's the first 24 to 72 hours: You're on your own; the federal folks aren't going to show up. They're going to take a while."
At a time when the feds are sending $87 billion to Iraq for reconstruction, local officials are now discussing whether to ask Pima County voters to approve more than $100 million in bonds for a radio communication system that will allow first responders from different agencies to communicate with each other.
It's a similar story across the nation. U.S. cities have not been consulted about homeland funding, and getting reimbursed for monies already spent is a tedious nightmare, according to a September report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The report, Tracking Federal Homeland Security Funds Sent to the 50 State Governments, found that 49 percent of cities were not involved in the development of the statewide domestic preparedness strategies, while 40 percent said the funds will not address top security priorities.
"Unfortunately, terrorists don't have to fill out forms in triplicate," says Tom Cochran, the conference of mayor's executive director.
IN THE TUCSON AREA, PREPARING for a terrorist attack began long before Sept. 11.
"In 1999, the city signed a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Emergency Preparedness for the (medical response system), and that was for $600,000 to develop plans to respond to biological and chemical attacks," says Caid. "That was a different pot of money than the current homeland security dollars."
The medical response system received $275,000 from HHS during the past three years and just signed another $280,000 contract for fiscal year 2004. The Arizona Division of Emergency Management has doled out an additional $100,000, which Caid says will be equally split between programs for school preparedness, the Behavioral Health Task Force, the Pharmacy Task Force at the UA and the Community Emergency Response Team.
After Sept. 11 and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, Washington began to up the funding ante.
Of Arizona's cut of $41.5 million or so this fiscal year, Pima County will receive roughly the same amount they did for fiscal year 2003: $3 million.
"They use a population threat matrix to determine how much the county will get," says Kim Janes, manager of the Pima County Office of Emergence Management and Homeland Security.
That fed-to-state-to-local government funding route continues to anger mayors throughout the nation, especially since many cities have not yet seen last year's money. Since Sept. 11, the conference of mayors has urged federal lawmakers to ensure that cities receive direct funding for homeland security to no avail.
In fiscal year 2003, Arizona received $31.5 million, sending $3 million to Pima County (twice as much as fiscal year 2002), which in turn distributed nearly $1 million to the city of Tucson; $565,000 to the Pima County Sheriff's Department; and almost $18,000 to the fire and police agencies at Tucson International Airport--a non-government agency which receives homeland security funding from other sources. Another $275,000 was earmarked for training exercises.
But the $1 million that goes to the city is of concern.
"It basically represents about 30 percent of the overall dollars that come to the county, and the thing that I'm always concerned about is, Tucson has about 60 percent of the population, and obviously, there are not enough dollars for all the needs that are out there," says Caid.
Besides the $3 million the county received in 2003, an additional $40,000 was allocated by the state to purchase personal protection equipment for the volunteer Citizen Preparedness Corps. This includes the Community Emergency Response Team program, a Pima College project to train volunteers. Both programs expect to receive $75,000 from the 2004 budget, according to Janes.
While the county is expecting another $3 million for fiscal year 2004, a recent risk assessment puts their projected local needs closer to $20 million.
There is not just one chunk of money from the Department of Homeland Security, but funding from several other agencies as well, including, the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration, Centers for Disease Control and even the Environmental Protection Agency--from which Tucson Water Department is expecting $750,000 for upgrades.
But the water department's risk assessment shows a substantially greater need.
"We had asked for something like $6 million based on what we calculated our costs out to be, to do the stuff we've already done plus additional stuff we haven't done yet or are in the process of doing," says Mitch Basefsky, a Tucson Water spokesperson.
To date, Tucson water has spent between $1-$2 million on capital and operational expenses. In the meantime, they can't simply wait for the money still owed them to harden their waterline facilities and add electronic security measures.
"There are things that we've completed or are in the process of doing that are essentially coming from ratepayer dollars," says Basefsky. "There are also operational costs in terms of security and in terms of human resources that we have not gotten reimbursed for."
WHATEVER THE ORIGIN OF THE funding, when the feds drop the ball on reimbursement of funds spent for mandated projects, the resulting out-of-pocket spending can wreak havoc on operating budgets. The Tucson Airport Authority is another good example. Like other airports around the country, they had to add significant manpower since Sept. 11, according to Paula Winn, Information Director for the Tucson Airport Authority.
"What happened was last year we submitted an application to the FAA for reimbursement of funds for having provided additional law enforcement officers to comply with new regulations created by the TSA," says Winn. "To date, we've received about $765,000, but we're still owed another $750,000."
According to the conference of mayors funding report, 37 percent of the airport operators have not been reimbursed for additional law enforcement costs associated with security at airport checkpoints, and Tucson International is part of the statistics, though homeland security has footed the bill for fingerprinting equipment associated with the new "U.S. Visit" screening program.
The majority of the city's $1 million cut is divided equally among the police and fire departments--roughly $450,000 each, which in turn involves spending line-items approved by the City Council and mayor.
"And then we spend the funds for equipment, show receipts to the county and then the county reimburses the city," says Lt. John Stamatopoulos, Commander of TPD's Emergency Management Section and the department's homeland security grant coordinator. "It's kind of like floating a check in your checking account, but we know the county's got the money."
Both TPD and Tucson Fire spearheaded a joint effort to get on board with federal security funding back in 2000, getting ahead of the curve by identifying the area's weaknesses and funding needs early on. So, unlike Tucson water and the airport, they don't have to wait as long for federal reimbursement. And unlike the airport, their programs are not mandated. It makes the spending process a bit less harrowing, and Stamatopoulos says overall, TPD has been "extremely pleased" with the funding.
"It's a bit cumbersome, but that's the federal government dealing with the state and county, and down to the city level," observes Stamatopoulos.
And when the threat level is increased, as it was over the holidays, that can put an even bigger burden on local governments.
"We don't get any special money or additional money when we go to 'Orange Alert' or anything else. Whatever changes take place because of the alert status change just has to be covered within the operating budgets of the departments," says Assistant City Manager Sander. "There is no extra funding available for that anywhere."
Yet the roller-coaster ride of perceived threats and vague color-coded alerts has the potential to cause an abject instability among local first responders who have to continue to adopt to new alerts and possible increased spending, and hope they re reimbursed in a timely manner.
"Having done it half a dozen times since that alert system was implemented and since there was no local threat, agencies really did not have to expend additional funds to ensure readiness," says Janes.