Speaking at a press conference addressing the state’s response to the ongoing drought and heat wave, Governor Mary Fallin today said that one of her priorities in the next legislative session would be to replenish the State Emergency Fund.
The fund reimburses counties, municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, rural water districts and other entities for infrastructure damage sustained under a presidential disaster declaration.
While the emergency fund was created to lessen the fiscal impact of tornadoes, hurricanes, wild fires and other natural disasters, the state is several years behind in its payments. The current balance stands at $944.00, with outstanding obligations totaling more than $36 million. The state has not reimbursed local entities for any disasters occurring after 2007, despite numerous disaster declarations.
“The weather has made this a tough year for many in Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “Ice storms, tornadoes, fires, and drought have hit our local communities hard, and many are stretched thin by the cost of relief and recovery efforts. It is not fair for the state of Oklahoma to ignore its obligations when towns and cities are struggling to find the money to pay for firefighters, police and basic services. That’s why I’m calling on our legislators to make replenishing the State Emergency Fund a priority next year.”
In the event of a presidential disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses municipalities and other qualifying entities for 75 percent of the cost of any infrastructure damage. The State of Oklahoma covers 12.5 percent of that cost using the State Emergency Fund, and the qualifying entity covers 12.5 percent.
Changes Imminent to Governor’s Burn Ban
Governor Fallin also said today that, due to recent rain and improving conditions, changes to the statewide burn ban are expected to be announced in the next 24 to 48 hours with at least some counties coming off the ban.
“We are still in the process of evaluating the conditions on the ground with the state Forestry division, but we do expect to be able to make some modifications to the burn ban in the next one to two days,” Fallin said. “We understand the burn ban can be a major inconvenience to citizens, but we want to make sure we are putting safety first.
Governor Praises Relief Efforts
On hand at today’s press conference were officials with the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Public Safety, the National Guard, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Department of Health and the Tulsa and Oklahoma City chapters of the American Red Cross.
“The kind of sustained heat wave and drought we saw this summer creates a full spectrum of hazards for the state of Oklahoma: it’s a health hazard, it creates wildfires; it withers crops in the field and starves livestock; and it’s a destructive force for our economy,” Fallin said. “Relief efforts required a full range of government and private sector action, including fire suppression, public health efforts, law enforcement, agricultural aid and direct community assistance. I’m extremely proud of the way our government agencies worked together to provide an effective response to the ongoing drought.
“I’m also extremely proud of our citizens, who continue to remind us why Oklahoma is such a great community. Church groups, individual citizens and groups like the American Red Cross have done so much during this crisis, whether it’s reaching out to those who have just lost their homes in a wildfire, or just making an air-conditioned “cool down” station available for neighbors without power.
“When it comes to beating the heat, we are all in this together, and I’m happy to say that the response from both our state agencies and our citizens was an impressive one.”