Supervisors refuse federal request

Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The board of supervisors denied a request from a federal agency asking the county to issue permits to make permanent what was supposed to be temporary housing

In other business, the liquor referendum was added to the docket for the Nov. 7 election.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked the board to issue permits to convert to permanent housing the travel trailers issued to residents needing them as temporary housing following Hurricane Katrina. FEMA plans to sell the trailers to those still living in them.

This goes against FEMA’s claim about a year ago that the small, flimsy homes were only temporary. Chief Building Inspector Kirk Pichon said that the agency asked him to address the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors on the issue. Not a single member on the board saw FEMA’s suggestion as a smart move.

“I just ain’t gonna budge one bit on this,” District I Supervisor Anthony Hales said.

Travel trailers are designed to be occupied for a weekend or a few days, not permanently, County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said.

FEMA’s sale of the trailers to those residing in them depends on the travel trailers be issued permits declaring them a permanent form of residence, which the supervisors declined to do.

“We were promised that this was temporary housing,” District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said. “I am 100 percent against this, we are not doing anybody any favors by allowing them to live in substandard housing.”

Part of the problem came with the implementation of building codes, which was strongly suggested by FEMA. Now the agency is asking the county to allow the use of the travel trailers, originally designed as temporary housing, as permanent housing when they don’t meet code requirements the agency asked the county to adopt.

“I can’t believe FEMA would come and try to push this on the county, going against everything that they have publicly stated,” Board president Danny Wise said.

In addition, having people crammed in such tight spaces has caused an astronomical increase in domestic violence, Lumpkin said.

Hales suggested an alternative to FEMA selling the travel trailers to county residents.

“Give ’em some money to let ’em fix their house and we won’t have any need for their trailers,” Hales said.

The board asked Pichon to inform FEMA that mobile homes issued by FEMA could be eligible for permanent housing permits, but travel trailers will not, and if FEMA will not release the names of people in the travel trailers so the county can inform them of the new standard, then FEMA should contact thetravel trailer residents directly.

In other business, the liquor referendum was placed on the Nov. 7 ballot, possibly changing the county’s current status of dry to wet. When the next election is held, county residents will have the chance to voice their opinion on whether liquor should be sold in the city limits of Poplarville and Picayune. Lumpkin said if the public votes liquor in, it would not be sold county wide, only in the two municipalities.

Circuit Clerk Vicki Harriel verified 1,552 valid signatures on the petitions, Lumpkin said. Board Attorney Nova Carroll said once enough signatures have been verified approving the contents of a petition, the count usually ends there.

On another matter, the board was told that residents with out-of-state license plates are keeping the county from collecting taxes that keep county roads maintained. No headway has been made on the situation, said Sheriff Joe Stuart. Part of the money from the sale of vehicle tags is used by the county for road maintenance. The board plans to send letters requesting assistance from the two other law enforcement agencies on the matter.

“I think you need a concerted effort between the two municipalities and the county,” Thigpen said.

Thigpen suggested all three do the enforcement on the same, unannounced, day.

According to homestead exemption law, every vehicle domiciled in the county must be registered in the county or the owners are violating homestead exemption laws, if they own their own home, and a stiff monetary penalty and one year in jail could be imposed, Thigpen said.

“It is something to repair roads and bridges,” Thigpen said.

New residents have 30 days from the time they move into the county to register their vehicle with the county, Thigpen said.

In a previous meeting, the board was approached about switching county ambulance service from Emergy Stat to AAA. The board decided to finish the contract that they had already agreed to with Emergy Stat and reevaluate the matter when the contract is up for renewal in April of 2007.

The board continued discussing using the Gulf Coast Mental Center Crisis Center in Gulfport in stead of holding mental patients at the jail. Where the county plans to hold drug and alcohol patients and juveniles is still under debate. To use the Crisis Center, there would need to a designated deputy to transport mental patients at all times, said Chancery Clerk David Earl Johnson. Stuart said his department has a van and a bus that could be modified and used for transport. To begin using the crisis center would probably cost about $30,000 to $40,000 more than the county is currently spending a year on mental patient holding, Johnson said.

“That’s not much to give for professional care, and that’s what we need to give right there is professional care,” Johnson said.

The board is still considering using the old jail facility to house the drug and alcohol patients or juveniles, though specifics had not been worked out at press time. If the county can move all mental patients, drug and alcohol patients and juvenile patients out of the county jail, then there would be 36 extra beds to house paying prisoners. Those extra prisoner would provide more income to the jail and possibly offset the cost of using the Crisis Center, Hales said.

In other business the board, approved redirecting $7,000 usually donated to South Mississippi Domestic Violence Women’s Center to the local Women’s Center.

The board meets again 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25, at Pearl River County courthouse to work on the budget.