Southern Nevada officials on Friday learned the region will lose about $3 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency grant funds this year, a 60 percent cut from fiscal 2011.
The funding is related to the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA's risk validation process. It is directly tied to disaster preparedness planning that began nationwide after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"It's a big disappointment," Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said Friday. "These are necessary dollars for preparedness. I don't know if we can get reconsideration, but this is happening at a time when we're looking for more federal grant funds."
Sisolak said there is "a fine line between planning and preparedness. I don't know what all these grants can be used for, but this is going to have an impact on a state our size."
While Southern Nevada dropped eight spots in FEMA's ranking of high-risk communities -- from 22 to 30 -- four cities were eliminated from funding altogether. They were Cleveland, Cincinnati, Norfolk, Va., and Pittsburgh.
And three cities that were ranked behind the Las Vegas metropolitan area last year have moved up the list. They are Denver, Portland, Ore., and Tampa, Fla.
Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, said Southern Nevada's ranking may have slipped eight spots, but the region is funded at the same level as the 24th -ranked region.
Reid's office is evaluating the information and has reached out to local officials to see what can be done, according to a statement from the Democratic senator. "Further, we will look at what steps can be taken to increase our stature for next fiscal year."
FEMA's total budget was cut by $1.5 billion this year.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she understood that the funding, which the county and state have received for about a decade, was to be used to create disaster preparedness and security plans.
"If we haven't laid out our plans by now, then we haven't been spending our money correctly," Giunchigliani said.
But she also said Southern Nevada agencies seem to have their plans in place.
"This shouldn't be the problem people think it is," she said.
Giunchigliani said the Strip and the Clark County Detention Center could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks or a major disaster, but she said the FEMA grants were supposed to go to "true preparedness plans" and not to fund a wish list.
She acknowledged the funding reduction, from $4.7 million in 2011 to $1.8 million this year, is significant.
"Local governments are down," she said. "We're down $42 million in property taxes."
According to an email sent to commissioners by Sabra Smith-Newby, the county's director of administrative services, the agencies that will take a hit include the Metropolitan Police Department, the Southern Nevada Health District, the Clark County Fire Department and "some portion of city activity."
Erik Pappa, the county's director of public communications, said in an email the funding for local public agencies includes responses to nearby federal facilities.
He cited as an example Creech Air Force Base near Indian Springs north of Las Vegas. The base is home to the Predator drone program and relies primarily on the volunteer fire, police and emergency medical response departments at Indian Springs.
He said similar arguments could be made about Hoover Dam; the Nevada National Security Site, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site; and the heavy industry site in Henderson.
"It's inconceivable that Las Vegas' ranking would be lowered so significantly," Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said. "These are important monies for securing our community. We need to get to the bottom of this."
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Friday said the preparedness grants are used to help the public and private sectors "prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies in support of the National Preparedness Goal."
Though more than $1.3 billion was set aside this year to aid states, large cities, and tribal and territorial governments, she pointed out that $1 billion was cut from the program in 2011 and another $1.5 billion this year.
She said the "significant reductions" forced the agency to set clear priorities and focus on areas of greatest risk.
Contact Doug McMurdo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.