For more than two decades, Benton County officials have relied on federal money to help fund emergency management services and pay for equipment such as radios, firetrucks and decontamination trailers.
The federal dollars tied to the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program for the Umatilla Chemical Depot near Hermiston are due to stop flowing once the last of the mustard agent is destroyed at the depot in the next two years.
About 30 officials from the county, cities, police and fire departments that rely on those funds met with state CSEPP officials Thursday to begin figuring out exactly what the impact will be and how to prepare.
"It will be painful," conceded Patrick Keane of D&E Technical, an Illinois-based company contracted to complete the state of Washington's CSEPP closeout plan. "But there will be no surprises."
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It's not clear exactly how much money the county will lose when the program ends, but it will require tough discussions about how to adjust, said Bob Spencer, Benton County emergency management manager.
Emergency Services officials also know that as the money dries up, some people will lose their jobs, he said.
CSEPP money covers the salaries of 5.5 full-time-equivalent positions, Spencer said. Those employees -- four are full time -- work specifically on CSEPP-related projects and won't be needed, he said.
Each year, emergency services typically receives $1 million to $2 million through CSEPP, with about three-quarters of it distributed to police and fire agencies for equipment and supplies, Spencer said.
About half the operating costs for the 911 dispatch center and emergency services center are paid for by the federal money, he said.
Emergency services was formed through an agreement among the county, Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Benton City and Prosser. It's governed by board members representing each entity who set emergency services policies and procedures.
During Thursday's 90-minute workshop, a lot of information about was presented, but officials appeared to have more questions than answers.
The biggest thing to figure out is, "What are you paying for with federal money that is part of the emergency management program?" Keane said.
Once that is known, officials can begin planning to deal with the funding loss.
Keane said there are very specific rules to follow to track equipment and supplies purchased with federal money, and the equipment has to continue to be used for its intended purpose. Otherwise, federal officials can try to get the money back.
There's a long list of questions -- can surplus county equipment be given to a nongovernment agency like a hospital or can ownership of tone alert radios be transferred to the current holders -- that should be researched to determine what needs to be done.
It's not yet known when closeout will occur, but it's expected to be during 2012, Keane said. The earliest projected estimate for destroying the last of the mustard agent is September-December 2011, he said.