Cost to pay full-time firefighters would be $670K, Fire Council reports

A $1.5 million “security renovation” for the Jones County Adult Detention Center was approved by the board of supervisors at their most recent meeting.

Noah Detention Construction out of Niceville, Fla., had the low bid of $1,578,200 to replace locks, security cameras and other equipment to “get it all working like it did originally,” engineer Wiley Pickering said at last Monday’s meeting at the Jones County courthouse in Ellisville. 

A new electric system of locks will replace an old compressor-operated airlock system that has been in disrepair, Pickering said.

“It’s important that we do it now,” said board President Jerome Wyatt. “If we continue to delay, it will continue to increase costs.”

The board can use incoming bond money to fund the project, Chief Financial Officer Charles Miller said.

The work was scheduled to start this week and was expected to take three to four months to complete, Pickering said.

In another matter, the board tabled a proposal to hire a dozen firefighters, at a cost of $670,000, so two can staff a station in each of the county’s six fire districts from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays. Fire officials proposed the plan because of a lack of manpower during normal working hours. That means decreased response times to wrecks and fires, which could result in more loss of life and/or property, they said. Also, because of the dwindling number of volunteers, parts of the county may get a higher fire rating, and that would result in higher insurance rates for residents and businesses.

“We had a structure fire just this morning,” Jones County Fire Coordinator Dan McKenna said, referring to a blaze that destroyed a mobile home in south Jones County. “Five people total showed up for that call.”

McKenna has said that at least 12 firefighters are needed to safely fight an average fire.

Lee Garick of the Jones County Fire Council said none of the current volunteer firefighters would be eligible for the paid positions.

“We will seek firefighters who work outside of Jones County,” Garick said. “On their days off, they could come fill in the blanks.”

Supervisor Johnny Burnett made a motion that the board take the plan under advisement and study it closer. He pointed out that there’s now a plan in place to replace three fire trucks per year and said, “$600,000 would replace a lot of equipment.”

Supervisor Barry Saul said that the plan would have to be put in place at budget time.

“The need has been there,” Wyatt said, “it’s just a matter of how we get there.

“The idea was to improve the fire rating and that would create a return for the citizens. We’ve got to pay for what we want.”

In other business, Michael Russ of the Butler Snow law firm in Ridgeland reported that bonds are being issued for the county and the county can start “rebuilding roads and bridges” by about the third week of April. The county will have up to $10 million to do the work.

County engineer Ronnie Clark reported that the Federal Highway Administration is transitioning the role of some bridge inspections back to county engineers. Pickering went to a school in Illinois and is now certified to do inspections.

Supervisors approved an emergency road and bridge repair fund project on Spur Line Road at a cost of $468,888. It is a Mississippi Department of Transportation project that was needed as a result of flooding right after Christmas. The board approved similar projects that the Pat Harrison Waterway District will assist with on Sandhill-Township and Moselle-Oak Grove roads and is requesting assistance from the agency on Maxey and Meador roads. Clark was also authorized to get quotes for emergency paving projects on Ellisville-Tuckers Crossing Road and Old Highway 15 South.

The board unanimously approved the following:

• Nominating someone to serve on the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport’s Economic Development Advisory Committee. Airport executive director Tom Heanue made the request so the county could be represented in negotiations for prospects. “We were this close to getting a Dollar General distribution center,” he said. “That would have been 400 jobs … we need representation on the committee.”

• Bay Springs Telephone, Inc., was granted a request for a utility permit to do work on Feed Mill, Walt Byrd, Service, Leonard Holloway, Will Holloway and Old Soso roads, and Beaver Lane Drive;

• Tennessee Gas Pipeline was granted a right-of-way permit to do work on East Radio Road;

• Trustmark (3.37 percent) had the low bid for financing the lease-purchase cost of an excavator for District 3;.

The board’s next meeting will be at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday at the courthouse in Laurel.

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