The Medford City Council has carved out $213,800 in its budget to pay for a new emergency manager who will prepare the city in case a major earthquake or other disaster strikes.
Only Councilor Chris Corcoran voted against the new position Thursday, citing the cost as his main objection.
"I'm sitting here with my mouth open and saying, 'This is not sustainable,' " he said.
The city will pay $145,000 for the annual salary and benefits of the new position, plus another $38,300 in materials and services annually. A one-time expense of $30,500 for equipment also is included.
Communities across the country have been ramping up their emergency preparedness after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
Previously the preparation for emergencies was handled by fire, police and the public works departments.
The new emergency manager would help create and direct a Citizen Emergency Response Team that the council had previously authorized in 2012.
Corcoran said he supports more preparation on the part of the city in case of disaster but thinks the city is facing such a tight budget that it can't justify the cost at this point.
Councilor Eli Matthews said that initially he was opposed to the idea of spending so much money and of creating a new position that will require an ongoing expense.
However, he noted, the city will be seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency and state grants. To qualify for the grants, the city needs to have an emergency management plan in place to deal with disasters.
"We can't afford not to do this," Matthews said. "It's a matter of time before something happens."
Southern Oregon has been identified as an area that would likely suffer considerable damage in an earthquake caused by a shift in the Cascadia subduction zone off the Oregon Coast. Scientists say the region is overdue for a major quake.
The city will seek a project manager who has training in emergency management. City Manager Eric Swanson provided a report to the council indicating that his office didn't have the expertise or staffing levels to handle an emergency management position.
Councilor Al Densmore said he supported adding the position because the city needs to better prepare the community in case of an earthquake or other disaster.
"This will make the community much more self-sufficient in an emergency," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.