Supervisors continue discussions on storm shelters

Published 12:37 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pearl River County supervisors continued on Monday exploring ways to best utilize $8.9 million in a federal FEMA grant to construct stand-alone storm shelters here, and mentioned several possibilities of combining the funds with local governmentally proposed construction projects to spread out back-end maintenance costs, which the county will have to bear after the shelters are constructed.

For the first time, supervisors heard from one fellow supervisor a suggestion that it might be best just to turn down the federal money if it is going to cost county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain the storm shelters and not be able to use them for other purposes.

However, supervisors said they would continue to search for local projects that might be combined with the buildings that would remake them into a multi-use facility rather than a stand-alone building dedicated only for use as a short-term storm shelter and nothing else.

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Each building will cost an estimated $2.9 million and one each will be constructed in the southern, middle and northern part of the county. Construction guidelines call for them to be able to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Discussion brought out the possibility of combining the shelters with a cafeteria at the Picayune high school, an office complex for the Pearl River County school system superintendent at Carriere, a community center, or new courtroom facilities on land next to the old courthouse, which the county faces constructing in the near future anyway.

Like all federal money, however, FEMA is offering millions up-front, but in the back-end there will be additional expenses in maintenance, upkeep and insurance costs on the shelters after they are constructed that local government, the county, must bear.

County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley told supervisors that insurance alone on the buildings after they are constructed could possibly run $60,000 a year. Added to that would be maintenance and upkeep.

The back-end expenses for the proposed shelters prompted supervisor Hudson Holliday to comment to Manley: “I tell you what. After going through this budget battle this time, and I know it’s a hard thing, like Anthony (Supervisor Anthony Hales) said, to turn the money down, but if we are going to have to build stand-alone buildings that we are going to have to maintain and spend a lot of money on for possible shelters where a lot of people from out-of-state come in here to flee a storm, and the local people are going to pay for that, I’d be for scrubbing the whole thing.”

Holliday added, “If we can have stand-alone buildings and use them, get some use out of them, and benefit from them, that’s another thing that might be worth looking into. But to build buildings and not get any use from them, and they cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain, that just does not make a lot of sense to me.”

He concluded, “They might sit there 30 years and not be used and just soak up our money. It’s ridiculous if we cannot use these buildings.”

Manley told Holliday that if the county wants to make the buildings into multi-use facilities, that can be done. “What we have to do is find somebody out there that will want to partner up with us,” Manley said.

Manley told supervisors there is a possibility of constructing one of the three proposed shelters in Picayune in a combined project with the school system there, which is planning construction of a new cafeteria on the high school campus.

However, Manley said that he talked to Poplarville superintendent Carl Merritt and exploration there showed that Poplarville does not have any extra land and that their planned construction projects are too small to incorporate into the program.

Manley has been seeking ways to combine the storm shelter construction with other local county projects to save maintenance and insurance costs for the county on the back-end of the project.

However, as Holliday suggested, a tight budget for most government entities has made it more difficult to find prospective partners for the combination. County supervisors are in no mood to pickup added expenses, after fighting to keep taxes down here during recent budget battles, even if that means turning down millions of dollars in federal money.

Supervisors wanted to make sure that it is understood that they are not saying they want to, or are planning to, turn down the federal money. Hales said supervisors wanted the money and the project, but just wanted to find out some way of utilizing the buildings and not just letting million-dollar buildings sit out there and “cost us money but not be used.”

Supervisors said they would talk to state and federal officials, and local officials, and architects to get some idea of what they could do in the way of combined projects that would allow the buildings to be constructed as multi-use facilities.

The county is in the process of drawing up what is termed a “preliminary scoping survey”requested by project architect Mark Gray, client service director with Buchert Horn, Inc., of Memphis, Tenn.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is helping oversee the project, and that agency wants the project in Picayune ready for occupancy by Nov. 2, 2010, and in the central and northern portions of the county by Sept. 23, 2010.

Any additional monies, above the $2.9 million appropriated for each of the original structures, to upgrade the structures to a multi-use facility would come from local sources.

In other matters, the board:

— Appointed Carol McIntosh to the 10-member county library board. McIntosh’s name was submitted by Hales. The vote was unanimous. McIntosh will replace Minnie Harmon.

— Went into executive session to discuss what board attorney Joe Montgomery said were “legal matters.”

— Passed a resolution to notify the sheriff to bill all “government entities” for housing their prisoners at the Pearl River County jail.

— Received personnel changes from the sheriff.

— Received the county inventory list.

— Approved the travel of two officers with the sheriff’s department to the TRIAD conference in Orlando, Fla., Dec. 7-10.

— Recessed to Monday, Oct. 26, at 9 a.m.