MEMA director addresses board on FEMA trailers

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Womack addressed the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors Monday morning at the request of Pearl River County Emergency Management Agency Director Bobby Strahan in hopes of answering questions about the Federal Emergency Management Agency travel trailers and mobile homes.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin told Womack that the problem the county is having with the FEMA travel trailers is that they are not up to county wind zone requirements and asked if perhaps county residents can purchase mobile homes through FEMA.

“The problem I see with it is yes, they will let us (the county) procure these mobile homes, but we can’t turn around and sell them to the public,” Lumpkin said. “(FEMA) told us they would only sell people the units they are currently living in.”

Womack said FEMA is looking at how much it would cost to trade out the mobile homes for the travel trailers.

“I think our main problem with it, we’ve got people who need housing. They’re being offered to let purchase (travel trailers) and they meet no federal guidelines. It’s basically a temporary housing unit and you’re saying they can buy it to live in permanently,” said District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen.

Womack disagreed, saying that FEMA is not recommending that the travel trailers be used as permanent residences. “They’re not safe,” he said.

Thigpen asked Womack how far the county is from being eligible for the “Katrina cottages” that are currently being built in the three lower coastal counties.

“My thought is we won’t get this far with them, but we won’t know for three to four months,” Womack said.

Womack said he would go back to FEMA and try to get more of the mobile homes for the county.

“It doesn’t make sense for them to sit up there rotting away when there are people around here who need them,” he said.

Womack also recommended the county partner with non-profit organizations to provide affordable housing for county residents.

Lumpkin pointed out that the county still would have to be the entity to purchase the mobile homes, because FEMA regulations will not allow non-profit organizations to purchase them.

“It’s a double-edged sword, because we can’t buy it and give it to (the residents), and we can’t get non-profits to go buy them, either,” Lumpkin said.

Jeff Hollimon, attorney for the county utility authority, presented the board with a proposal for acquisition of county property where the City of Poplarville Regional Water Supply will be located.

Hollimon said the authority has been looking at property that is located next to the hospital just off U.S. 11 in Poplarville as the site for the facility. Once the property has been acquired and bids have been advertised, construction should be completed within six months, Hollimon said.

The utility authority will need an easement to go across a corner of hospital property, and Hollimon said an emergency tap can be put on the hospital’s section of land for the hospital’s use.

The board voted to donate the property to the utility authority.

The question was also raised to Hollimon by District V Supervisor and Board President Bettye Stockstill about the $300 fee that residents are being assessed when obtaining new permits.

“People feel like they aren’t getting anything for their $300. They can’t see the big picture. They can’t see anything but that it’s affecting them,” Stockstill said.

Hollimon said the fee is being used to pay for the everyday functions of the authority, such as to pay engineering and legal costs and to pay the salaries of the authority’s part time employees.

District III Supervisor Larry Davis asked why churches and non-profit organizations are being charged the utility authority and building permit fees.

“It’s been brought to my attention that they have to pay commercial rate, just like Wal-Mart would,” Davis said.

Thigpen agreed, saying “I feel like these people are community people, and they aren’t commercial and they’re not out to make money.”

The board voted to waive all building fees for legal, established churches and non-profit organizations, and passed a resolution asking the utility authority to waive its fees also.

Bob Niemi, from Habitat for Humanity, asked the county to partner with the non-profit organization in an attempt to provide more affordable housing for residents in the community.

Niemi mentioned federal SmartCode funding that the county is eligible to apply for, and asked if Habitat for Humanity could get the county to either loan or grant that money to them to build houses in the county.

Planning and Development Director Harold Holmes said the funding is provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and that most counties do not make use of the funding.

Niemi said Habitat for Humanity sells houses at cost without charging interest, and that makes them more affordable for people than other housing.

The board also had a luncheon for Board Attorney Nova Carroll, who retired after 16 years of service to the county. Carroll’s retirement was effective June 30.

The board went into executive session to discuss personnel matters, E-911 matters, and road department litigation.

In other business the board:

— Acknowledged new laws raising fees charged by sheriff’s department from $25 to $35 and requiring holiday pay for all public safety employees.

— Adopted house arrest program for the youth court, in which young offenders can wear ankle bracelets instead of being incarcerated.

— Changed location of Province Lane, renamed original Province Lane to Pitre Lane, and approved addition of Lena Lane.

— Received grant from Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation in amount of $10,538 for update of Pearl River County Strategic Plan.

— Voted to monitor the installation of culverts in subdivisions during the developer’s one-year warranty period.

— Authorized payment of $59,634 for courthouse roof.