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Lee Commission to consider EOC upgrade

ALBANY -- The Lee County Commission agreed to take part in a 50/50 matching grant to upgrade the Lee County Emergency Operations Center at its monthly work session Tuesday evening.

James Howell, Lee County Emergency Management director and fire chief, told the board Tuesday evening that the current EOC facilities located in the Muster Room of the Sheriff's office in Lee County was in need of significant upgrades.

Howell, Sheriff Reggie Rachals and GEMA Area 2 Field Coordinator Gary Rice reviewed the EOC and its efficiency after the recent severe weather events of flooding, snow and ice. He said the facility is merely a secure location with basic necessities that may not be adequate enough during a large scale disaster.

"In the event of a major disaster we could use the EOC, but we would be relying heavily on cell phones," Howell said. "We need dedicated wires, possibly large screen televisions that could double as monitors so that we could track weather patterns, phone lines and better office equipment."

When asked by Lee County Chairman Ed Duffy what exactly the facility currently provides, Howell responded: "It has lights and desks."

Howell said the trio is currently compiling a list of equipment and supplies and the associated costs that would make the site a functional EOC.

"We are still working on obtaining costs at this time, but our best guess is between $15,000 to $20,000 to totally outfit the space," he said.

Howell informed the commission that there is a possibility of obtaining a 50/50 matching grant to upgrade the EOC, which would require a commitment from Lee County to pay between $7,500 to $10,000.

Duffy, calling the matter a "severe safety issue," asked Howell to proceed with trying to get the grant immediately.

"This is important. It concerns the safety of our citizens," he said. "We will match the money."

The commission also discussed the matter of EMS delinquent accounts for ambulance non-transport fees.

Commissioner Dennis Roland, who represents Smithville and Chokee, said there is approximately $35,000 that is owed to the county from these debts.

According to Roland, Lee County charges a $50 fee to persons who are treated by EMS but who, through their own determination or through the recommendation of EMS personnel, are not transported to a hospital for treatment.

"I think it is time we press forward and send out notices and try to collect this money that is owed," he said.

Lee County Emergency Medical Service Director Bobby Watkins said presently there are 105 accounts that are delinquent because of non-payment of the $50 fee.

In October, the commission voted to suspend the collection of the fee until the matter could be discussed more thoroughly.

Lee County Attorney Jimmy Skipper said the county would have to absorb the court costs involved with trying to collect $50 fees from account holders.

"Essentially, we would have to put the money up front, so we would end up paying $85 to collect $50," he said. "What happens if the people have moved or have filed for bankruptcy, we would be unable to collect that money and would have spent $85 to take them to court."

Duffy said he was reluctant to take someone to court over $50 in the tough economic climate.

"In this down economy, if people are unable to even pay $50 how are they going to pay court costs on top of that?" he asked.

Roland responded to Duffy's question: "We could let everyone ride for free."

Watkins said many of the delinquent accounts are from elderly persons who are on fixed incomes. He suggested to the commission that the collection agency utilized by Lee County Emergency Medical Service research the individuals whose accounts are delinquent to see which ones can be collected upon.

"We are (going to) make some effort to collect the money owed," said Duffy.

Watkins informed commissioners of the recommendation that Peach State be awarded a bid for the purchase of an ambulance for Smithville use for $107,908.

Six invitations were sent out to vendors, with Peach State being the only company to respond.

Watkins said the last seven ambulances that EMS has purchased have been from Peach State.

The commission took under consideration the approval of Lee County Public Works to purchase two agricultural pumps and a discharge pipe.

Lee County Public Works Interim Director Mike Sistrunk said the county set aside $39,500 in the budget for the purchase of an agricultural pump, a discharge pipe and $50,00 for a brush chipper.

"After evaluating the brush chipper, we currently have we found that we could repair the chipper and use the money to purchase an additional pump," he said. "That way we wouldn't have to be borrowing from farmers."

The total cost of the items would be $48,400, Sistrunk said.

Lee County Sheriff Rachals presented a check for $75,000 to the commission Tuesday evening from the Sheriff's office bond fund account. Rachals said that sheriff's office has been working diligently to clean up the accounts that were left by the previous administration and found the refund to the county in the process.

The commission considered the possibility of crediting garbage bills to residents whose garbage was unable to be collected during the severe flooding. Lee County Administrator Alan Ours said approximately 70 homes were not reached for garbage pick-up during that time due to impassable roads.

The commission also considered a request for approval on a resolution regarding a moratorium on sign permits; a request to approve a proposal from Oxford Construction to resurface Pinewood Road; a request to approve amendments to the County's control ordinance relating to dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs; and a variance from the American Tower Corporation to allow the construction of a cell tower in Lee County that exceeds the maximum tower height of 180 feet.