By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – The county’s proposed flood insurance ordinance continues to take shape after supervisors participated in an hour-long work session with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Plain Management Specialist Stacey Ricks last Wednesday, June 23.
Adopting the ordinance will allow the county to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which in turn will allow people in the county who have structures located in flood-risk areas to purchase federally-backed insurance through the program. Currently Water Valley and Coffeeville both participate in NFIP.
Using a generic 30-page ordinance, Ricks addressed each section, offering advice on provisions that are required and optional portions of the ordinance. Once finalized, the county’s ordinance will be reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before taking effect.
Yalobusha is the sole county in the state not participating in the program.
During the session, Ricks answered specific issues in the ordinance, including one of the biggest sticking points for county officials- penalties set forth in the ordinance.
“We have to set a monetary fine and days in jail,” Ricks told supervisors. “The state recommends, you can go higher or lower, $100 and 30 days.”
“Is it mandatory we have the jail time in there,” District 1 Supervisor Tommy Vaughn questioned, suggesting instead the county impose a higher fine and leave out jail time.
“This gives the judge the tee-total authority. He doesn’t have to fine them. He doesn’t have to put them in jail,” Ricks explained, after adding that some amount of jail time is required to be placed in the ordinance. The penalties are imposed if a person who is building a structure in the at-risk flood area does not comply with the ordinance.
“I have only seen one person (put in jail) and that was because the judge just got really outdone with him,” Ricks told supervisors.
“We are kind of hung up on that, putting somebody in jail,” Vaughn explained, referring to a discussion among board members in a meeting earlier this month.
Ricks said the jail time could be lowered from the recommended 30 days in jail. He also estimated 80 percent of people in unincorporated areas across the state don’t live in the flood plain.
“In five years, we are not going to have 15 people,” Crow estimated, referring to structures constructed in areas at-risk to flooding in the county. Existing structures will be grandfathered. However the ordinance will regulate a substantial renovation planned to a structure in an at-risk area.
Ultimately Ricks said if the county carries out the penalties and the person still does not comply, the court documents can be sent to his office.
“We send that up to Washington D.C. and they put that address in a magical computer and it blocks flood insurance from being able to be purchased on that structure,” Ricks said.
Ricks also recommended the county use an 18-inch above the flood level elevation as the minimum requirement in the ordinance. Ricks backed his reccomendation explaining that the flood insurance is less expensive if the structure is at least 18 inches above the flood elevation.
In previous meetings, supervisors agreed to set 12 inches as the minimum elevation in the ordinance, citing that a homeowner can always choose to build higher to obtain the reduced insurance premium.
“As long if we give them this information up front, they can make their own decision?” Vaughn asked.
“That’s correct” Ricks responded.
“Without being a member of this program, you are severely hampered on the money the county can receive,” Ricks told supervisors, referring to disaster relief if a catastrophe strikes the county. He cited examples, including weather-related crisises ranging from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina to tornadoes that ripped through the state earlier this year, in which FEMA was able to provide counties with funds.
Another specific benefit discussed by supervisors at the meeting would be obtaining federal funds to purchase weather sirens in the county. The county must be enrolled in NFIP to be eligible for these funds.
Ricks also provided input about the third municipality in the county, Oakland, which is not enrolled in NFIB.
“Each municipality is responsible for their own selves,” Ricks said. “Currently Coffeeville and Water Valley are in,” Ricks told supervisors.
Water Valley Mayor Larry Hart who also attended the meeting, commented that the city will make changes with the ordinance currently in place.
Ricks also stressed the importance of enforcing the provisions in the ordinance, if it is adopted.
His comments reiterate advice by Crow, who has repeatedly told supervisors that enforcing the ordinance will be important.
“We are not just winking at this,” Crow has stressed.