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WATER VALLEY – Supervisors pledged to assist the Town of Oakland seek outside funding sources to help purchase a new fire truck following discussion in a pair of meetings.
District 4 Supervisor Eddie Harris initiated the discussion in the May 30 county meeting at the Coffeeville courthouse, explaining that he had been asked about the possibility of shifting the Oakland Fire Department to a county department instead a municipal department. He noted that Oakland has the oldest fire truck in the county and responds to more fire calls in the county than fires inside the municipal limits.
“Because they are responding on Interstate 55 a lot. What is the advantage of being a county fire department versus the Town of Oakland fire department?” Harris asked.
After conversation in the May 30 meeting, supervisors agreed to invite Oakland Mayor James Swearengen and Oakland Fire Chief Rich Ross to continue the discussion during Monday’s meeting in Water Valley.
Swearengen explained that his municipality needs to purchase a new pumper truck to maintain the town’s Class 8 Fire Rating.
“Our truck is still running good, but the state fire rating requires that you upgrade every 20 years,” Swearengen added. “That is what we are looking at.”
Swearengen also noted the town receives $5,000 annually from the county to help supplement the cost of operating the fire department.
“That $5,000 we get from the county is a great help for the insurance on the trucks, tires and other expenses,” the mayor explained.
The option to shift Oakland’s fire department to a county department was not embraced by Swearengen nor supervisors during the discussions. Instead Swearengen’s primary request to supervisors was to secure approval to utilize funds from the state’s Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Assistance Program (RFTAAP) that flow through the county. RFTAAP was created in 1995 to fund fire truck purchases in rural areas and provides matching grant funds for the purchase. If funded by legislators during the 2024 session, RFTAAP could fund an estimated $90,000 to $100,000 of the purchase price for a new pumper that could cost up to $400,000.
Yalobusha County EMA Director Stewart Spence confirmed at Monday’s meeting that a request from Oakland for future RFTAAP money would be granted.
“The rest of it would be the responsibility of the town,” Swearengen agreed about funding the truck purchase.
Supervisors noted that similar assistance was provided to the Town of Coffeeville as the 2022 RFTAAP funding was funneled to the town for a fire truck.
“They purchased an expensive truck,” Washington said about the $400,000 purchase in Coffeeville. “One thing they did was put a levy of $5 per customer on their water district to help offset the cost of that. That seems pretty fair and reasonable when you think everyone gets the benefit if their house is on fire. But at the same time, if you are living off of a social security check and barely paying the bills, $5 is a lot of money.”
Washington added that the county will help coordinate an effort to help find funds for Oakland.
“We have a new Economic Development Director, Kagan (Coughlin). He works really hard to find funds and I think he can help us with this,” Washington said. “We want to do everything we can, Mayor, to support the Oakland effort. I think we have five guys here who care about the entire county and not just sections of it. We all have our respective beats, but we are very good to try and do what we can for every aspect of the county.”
Other activity in the meeting included:
• Approved a request from Sheriff Jerimaine Gooch for two new Dodge Durangos to be unmarked vehicles. Gooch explained that the department will continue to operate the same number of unmarked vehicles, a total of three, as two vehicles that have been previously designated as unmarked will be marked. State law requires the Board of Supervisors to designate the unmarked vehicles on the board’s minutes.
The two Durangos were purchased at a cost of $87,984. A USDA grant funded $53,000 of the purchase, and the remaining portion will be funded through money the sheriff’s department receives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for patrolling areas of Enid and Grenada lakes located in Yalobusha County.
Supervisor Washington also commended the sheriff and other emergency responders for rapid response to a wreck in Water Valley last month. Washington said he encountered the wreck near Blackmur Library after two juveniles on a four-wheeler were struck by a vehicle.
“I was the second or third person on the scene and tried to help direct traffic. The Water Valley Fire Department, Water Valley Police Department, the sheriff’s department and EMA directors were there within minutes. That momma needed someone there to help with her child. I just want to commend you sheriff,” Washington said.
• Approved a request from Circuit Clerk Daryl Burney to replenish his jury account with an additional $7,000 from the county’s general fund.
Burney explained the account will be over budget during the current fiscal year that extends from October, 2022 to September, 2023 due to a busier-than-usual court schedule and the convening of multiple grand juries.
“We have gone a period of time where we didn’t have a whole lot of trials. But now we are looking at some major trials that could last four to five days,” Burney explained. “I have one major trial scheduled in August and two major trials in September.”
The August trial is scheduled to start on the 14th. Timothy Aaron Dewberry is charged in a three-count indictment that includes sexual battery, gratification of lust and child exploitation.
Trials for brothers Jarvis Roberson and Geraldo Roberson, who are each charged with first degree murder, are scheduled in the fall term of court that starts on Sept. 5. The brothers were arrested following the March 28, 2020 death of Tallahatchie County resident Barney Edward Frost. Their trial date has been pushed back multiple times.
Billy Brooks’ trial is also scheduled in the fall term that starts Sept. 5.
Brooks was initially scheduled for trial in May before a continuance was granted, pushing his case back to the fall term. Brooks was indicted for first degree arson in the Dec. 26, 2020 fire at a mobile home located at 12 Pat Drive in the Boat Landing community west of Water Valley. An occupant, Kristina Michelle Jones, was discovered deceased inside the home after firefighters discovered the blaze. Her death has not been ruled a homicide. Brooks was also indicted for first degree murder in the June 13, 2021 death of former state representative Ashley Henley.
Brooks’ indictment for arson was handed down by a grand jury on February 24, 2022. An amended, superseding indictment was handed down by a grand jury on June 30, 2022, as a second count for first degree murder was added to the original indictment, indicating the two crimes could be connected as the arson charge and murder charge will be heard during the same trial.
Burney reported that jurors are paid 32 cents a mile for travel to and from the courthouse and $25 a day.
“The judge always tells them, ‘You are going to get way overpaid for being a juror,’” Burney joked.
• Presented the Mississippi Association of Supervisors (MAS) County Employee Scholarship to Joshua Harrison during the May 30 meeting. The $500 scholarship is awarded to an immediate family member of employee working for or retired from a Mississippi County.