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Aldermen Approve First Step For New Police, Fire Department

The fire and police departments are currently located in an outdated building at the intersection of Wise Street and Main Street.
Aldermen voted to move the departments to the 14,000 square foot building on Wise Street that formerly housed the armory.

WATER VALLEY – Aldermen voted unanimously to pursue moving the city’s police and fire department to the former National Guard building following a proposal from Water Valley Fire Chief Mark McGavock in the March 5 city meeting.

McGavock’s plan includes utilizing city workers from the fire department as well as other city departments to repurpose 3,700 square feet in the interior of the building and add sleeping quarters in an upstairs portion of the building at a projected cost of $74,000.  McGavock’s plan showed the proposed design to add class rooms, supply rooms and interrogation rooms in the middle of the building as well as the sleeping quarters for the firemen, who work 24 hour shifts.

His proposal comes after aldermen voted last July to terminate a lease with the Mississippi Army National Guard for use of the 14,000 square-foot city-owned building on Wise Street. Aldermen made the decision at the request of Col. Paul McDonald, who explained that the National Guard was reaching out to cities and towns  to offer the buildings back to communities as the number of armories in the state will be reduced from 73 to 55. McDonald also explained the local armory was no longer in use.

McGavock told city officials that the current layout of the armory is ideally suited for the conversion, citing heating and cooling units in place, adequate bathrooms and showers as well as wiring for phone and internet lines.

“The police department, does this meet their needs for now and the future?” Ward I Alderman Kagan Coughlin asked.

“Right now we do not have any interrogation rooms. When it comes time to investigate some of our serious crimes, I don’t have rooms to separate anyone,” Police Chief A.J. Hernandez answered. The chief also explained that officers currently use rooms for investigations that have overlapping foot traffic from fire fighters and police officers.

“My only question is, can we do this? We can do it, but do we have to bid this out to a private company,” McGavock asked about the legality of utilizing city crews instead of bidding the job out to a commercial contractor. He also said the plan included utilizing county inmates for some of the demolition work in the project.

“We are hoping to get some county inmates to help,” McGavock explained.

“It doesn’t appear to have any issues,” City Attorney Daniel Martin answered, adding he would research the matter further.

“I think it is a fantastic idea because the current department is too small, it is dilapidated, they have mildew and mold to deal with in the sleep quarters,” Ward 3 Alderperson Cinnamon Foster said. “I think there is a better use for that building, maybe to have income for the city by renting that space out,” Foster added about the current facility used for the departments.

“What condition will you leave the existing structure in if somebody is interested in it?” Alderman-at-Large Herbie Rogers asked.

“I went through the building, just looking and calculating, it would take about $30,000 to have it decent,” McGavock answered.

“I would make a motion that we pursue moving our fire and police into the armory building, if that is the highest and best use for that facility,” Coughlin said as the discussion came to a close.

“This would just get us to step one, how we are going to finance it and how we are going to do it will be steps two and three,” Gray said before aldermen voted unanimously in favor of converting the building.

Aldermen also voted to get an appraisal on the current police and fire department as a possible revenue source to fund the conversion by either selling or leasing the building.

Other business conducted at the meeting included:

Aldermen discussed options to curb speeding on Market Street after a resident told city officials he had been involved in two accidents during the last three years while trying backing out of his driveway.

“It has come to my attention that there was another wreck on Market Street. There is a significant amount of high speed traffic, I have witnessed that all my life. I am watching school buses speed myself, residents speed. We have a person here (at the meeting) who was hit,” Foster explained about the situation.

“I have lived at 317 Market Street since 1976,” Eddie Mitchell then told aldermen. “I went 38 years without getting hit and then I have a guy on a Suzuki motorcycle running at great speed try to go up under me as I backed out.”

Mitchell said the accident could have killed the cyclist, adding that dip in the road at his driveway hinders visibility. He also explained that 15 school buses race down the road and back up it in the morning and again in the evening, in addition to other speeders

“When people visit my house and pull in my driveway, when they leave I go out in the street and look to see if the traffic is okay and I tell them when to come out. But I don’t have that privilege when I am in the driver’s seat trying to get out. We need to do something on Market Street to slow the traffic down… there is a lot of traffic on that street,” Mitchell stressed, prompted a lengthy discussion in the meeting that also included input from other residents on the street who attended the meeting.

Foster said she had looked at different options, including utilizing police officers to assist with traffic during school drop offs and pickups each day.

“I know Tony (police chief) has stepped up patrols, but not necessarily during school bus hours and that could be something we could look at,” Foster said.

“I can assure you, because I paid a ticket for somebody in my family, they are patrolling that,” Gray noted about the increased police patrols on the street.

“Kagan is all for slowing traffic down in town, we have gotten several cross walk signs up. Hopefully we are going to reteach people how to drive in town with low speed limits,” Foster said.

“The school bus drivers are one of the worst offenders, last year I talked to the principal of the school and the safety officer and it is still an issue,” Charlotte Lane, a Market Street resident, noted.

Other options discussed included adding rumble strips or speed humps along the street before aldermen voted to authorize Street Department Manager Michael Scroggins to hire a traffic company to conduct a study and provide costs for traffic calming on Market Street.

• Aldermen agreed to utilize city workers for grass cutting instead of outsourcing the work. The decision followed a reminder from the mayor about last year’s cost, which went almost $8,000 over the $36,000 budgeted for the expense. With the change, alderman also authorized the purchase of a new $9,000 eXmark zero-turn lawnmower and several weedeaters, as well as hiring four temporary workers during the grass cutting season to boost the existing manpower. The cost of the temporary workers would be $5,400 per month for approximately six months.

“While it might be a large investment one year, the mower would last. We have some that are over 10 years old,” Gray said about the expense of a new commercial mower.

“If we had four temporary, but working full-time grass cutters, we could run them full-time for $32,640 for  six months. If it is $3,000 every year on weedeaters and we vest a lawnmower for seven years, we will spend less and do more lawn cutting than we have been with contractors,” Coughlin noted.

“And it is something we can control better,” Gray added.

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