City, county butt heads; siren decision set for Monday

The county and the city are still at odds over the tornado siren project after a meeting Monday that became argumentative at times and ended with little being accomplished.

Drew County Judge Robert Akin, Monticello Mayor Allen Maxwell, Tillar Mayor Lemuel Overton, Wilmar Mayor Curley Jackson, and Winchester Mayor General Alexander met with six of the nine quorum court members, County Treasurer Charlie Searcy, MEDC director Nita McDaniel, City Clerk/Treasurer Andrea Chambers, City Attorney Whit Barton, and city employee Zack Tucker. The meeting was held to work out the details for the maintenance and funding for the tornado warning siren project.

Since there was a quorum of elected court officials present, the meeting became official. Initially, Akin asked that the city of Monticello and Drew County place $1.02 a per person in their respectable populations annual fee to fund any maintenance issues that might arise in the future.

However the discussion quickly changed to county’s shortfall in the FEMA grant’s matching funding.

Justice of the Peace Rene Knowles proposed that the $108,987.50 in matching funds be paid on a per capita basis – meaning that each entity pays for the sirens based on its population instead of the number of sirens they are getting.

“It’s the only fair way,” Knowles said. “Only 54 percent of the county populations are covered with the sirens when 100 percent of the city is covered.”

Akin said the county simply wants to use the same method in which the state divides sales tax dollars – by population.

Drew County will have 17 sirens, the city of Monticello will get eight sirens, and the town of Wilmar will get one siren. The total cost of the project is $468,994.28, with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency paying 75 percent of the cost.

According to the grant paperwork, each entity agreed in the beginning to pay one-fourth of the cost for their sirens. Under that original plan, Drew County should pay $72,658.44; Wilmar should pay $4,036.58; and Monticello should pay $32,292.72.

However, Knowles said the way it was set up isn’t fair because only 54 percent of the county’s population is covered with the sirens.

Maxwell said he questioned Akin’s loyalty to the siren project, and claiming that Akin had said that “no towers will go up in the county.”

Akin denied such claims.

“I never said I was against the sirens,” Akin said. “I just want to know how we are going to pay for them.”

Maxwell’s stand on the issue is that the city will pay for the portion owed for the eight towers in the city, but the county would have to pay for the 17 towers in the county.

Jackson said the town of Wilmar is prepared to pay for their tower as well.

“We are basically arguing over $22,000,” Akin said. “But, that doesn’t even matter right now. I’m worried about the back end (the long term maintenance).”

Even with Akin’s redirection toward the long-term, the meeting again shifted back to the matching funds.

Knowles said that paying per capita would be the fairest way to go, especially since the 46 percent of the county’s population won’t be covered under the service.

“I want the largest amount of people served, but I want it fair for everyone,”

The Advance-Monticellonian

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