By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – Supervisors took another step to ensure compliance with newly enacted flood ordinance in the county by requiring utility companies to have proof that the county has issued a developer’s permit before connecting services to any new home, renovation, mobile home or other structure in the county.
The utility order was adopted following a 3-2 split vote during a recessed meeting held Monday, Nov. 22. The issue also spawned a larger discussion concerning the enforcement of the flood ordinance – does the in-creased regulations of enrollment in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) outweigh the benefits associated with the program.
In July supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a flood ordinance that would allow the county to enroll in the NFIP. That vote came after months of dialogue with two primary driving factors identified as benefits for participating in the program.
The main reason cited was that flood insurance would be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This would allow people who build a structure in the flood plain to be eligible for a conventional mortgage to finance their project.
A second benefit, which was stressed in a letter from Mississippi Flood Plain Coordinator Stacey Ricks, was that if a tornado or other disaster strikes, damaged homes located in the flood plain in the county would not be eligible for federal assistance if the county is not a participant in the NFIP.
In early November, supervisors set a $25 fee for a developer’s permit that will be charged for any new home, mobile home, garage outbuilding, commercial building or home addition proposed in the county. The permit process was adopted to ensure that county officials could ensure that any construction in the county would be identified to keep the county in compliance with the NFIP.
The $25 fee would offset the expense for the county’s flood plain coordinator, Billy Humphreys, who will check each project in the county and determine if it is in the flood plain.
At the Monday, Nov. 22 meeting, Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn told supervisors that Billy Humphreys recommended that an order be entered requiring utility companies to wait on hooking up services until the county issued the developer’s permit.
After a back-and-forth discussion about enforcing the ordinance with the utility order on Nov. 22, supervisors passed the request with District One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn, District Two Supervisor Amos Sims and District Four Supervisor George Suggs voting in favor of the utility order. District Three Supervisor M.H. “Butch” Surrette and District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman were against it.
“I am not for that. We are over-governing people anyway, as far as I am concerned. I just don’t believe we need to be meddling in the business, especially if they are going to hook up a barn, shed or shop,” Surrette said as the discussion about the utility order kicked off. “I think we are taking a little authority and running with it.”
“I am going to let the water associations handle all that, and the health department. They got their regulations on community water,” Tillman added.
“I really don’t see a problem with it. We have already agreed to have these permits. For these folks to go out there and do that and not have a permit, they will know they need a permit when they go to get their water turned on and everything will be right,” Vaughn countered.
“Personally I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with it. We are not doing anything we are already doing. We are just making them aware that they have to have a permit,” Vaughn continued. “We are not doing anything we are not already doing. Just making them aware they got to have a permit. I keep going to this permit deal. I think there is one other county in the State of Mississippi that doesn’t have the flood ordinance,” Vaughn said, referring to enrollment in the NFIP.
“That is where you are wrong. I am going to clarify this right here,” District 3 Supervisor M.H. “Butch” Surrette answered.
“That is what they tell us,” Vaughn answered, referring to the state flood plain coordinator, Stacy Ricks.
“I know it. That is what that guy comes up here and tells you,” Surrette answered. “But there is about 25 counties in the state that hasn’t got it right now.”
“Even at that, that is still not but about a third of the state,” Vaughn said. “The point I want to get at is that we are looking at this thing like it is an inconvenience to a few people. It is. But it is a big convenience when these folks want to build out there. And can get flood insurance to borrow the money to do what they want to do,” Vaughn said, reiterating earlier comments articulated during the earlier months of discussion about the program.
“It is not going to keep them from getting flood insurance,” Surrette responded, referring to the order that would restrict utility companies from turning on their services until they get verification that a county permit has been issued. Surrette said the order would hurt people that wanted to get electricity to their shop, shed or barn.
“The thing that I wanted to really get straight was that I have heard all the time that we are the only county in the state that has not got the program. I wanted somebody to step up to the microphone and say that is right, because I know that is not right,” Surrette said.
“He did,” Vaughn answered, referring to comments made by Ricks during a visit to an earlier board meeting. “He did it in front of the t.v.”
“I know it, but I can tell you that is not right,” Surrette responded.
According to the FEMA website, under the NFIP community status report, Franklin and Lincoln counties are not listed as being enrolled in the NFIP.
“One thing that Frank (Yalobusha County 911 Coordinator Director Frank Hyde) brought up is that really and truly if someone goes to build a shop or barn behind their house, it is supposed to get a 911 number… if it gets power,” McMinn noted as the conversation shifted.
“It is not supposed to be, unless we want it to be,” Surrette responded.
“It is already in the 911 ordinance,” McMinn explained.
“If I get ready to hook up to my barn down there, I don’t have to get a number,” Surrette answered.
Tillman added that providing utilities is already complicated in his beat because there are a number of water associations that overlap multiple counties.
“You got one county that is doing one thing and another county doing something else,” Tillman continued. “I got my dose of it last week. I am going to leave all that to the health department and water association to see who is going to get water,” Tillman added, explaining why he was against the utility order.
“We agreed to do this flood zone for two or three different reasons. For the insurance and the fact that we don’t have any disaster relief coming for this county unless we are in it. If we are going in it without any teeth or without trying to implement it, we are just spinning our wheels. I don’t believe in doing something halfway, let’s do it right,” Vaughn added.
“We did the first part right,” Tillman countered, referring to the adoption of the flood ordinance in July.
The back-and-forth dialogue then sparked a question from Purchasing Clerk Janet Caulder, who asked if she pays a $25 fee and it is determined that she is not in the flood zone, can she proceed with a project?
“That is the way it works,” Board Attorney John Crow answered.
“You got to get a permit, though,” Surrette said.
“Right, but one time?” Caulder asked.
“If it is not in the flood zone, so then you can do what you need to do on your property,” Vaughn added.
“I think that is the way it works,” Crow added.
“That is the way it should work,” Vaughn said.
“Well you see, part of your property might be in the flood zone and part of it might not be in the flood zone. Somebody has got to come out there and determine which part. You might want to do what you are doing down there, but you can’t do it up here,” Surrette said.
Following the discussion, Vaughn made the motion to pass the utility order with Suggs making the second.
“I am opposed, I want you to be sure and put that down,” Surrette said. The 3-2 vote followed.