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Adams County officials fighting for FEMA storm shelter funding

NATCHEZ — With the chance of getting help from the city up in the air, Adams County is looking for other options to pay its share of the FEMA 361 storm shelter.

The county requested that the City of Natchez assist in paying the approximately $160,000 the county would need to pay for its 5-percent cost match for the shelter.

Mayor Butch Brown brought the request to the Natchez Board of Aldermen last week, but the board sat virtually silent on the matter.

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said they do not see from where that money would come.

“I kind of doubt the city would be able to provide those funds,” Dillard said. “We just went through our budget process, and $160,000 is something I don’t think the city will be able to do.”

Fields said he believes the shelter is an important project, but agrees it would be difficult for the city to provide funding.

“I think the shelter is very important and much-needed based on the hurricanes we have had in past years, but that kind of money is a pretty tall order,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she, too, does not know if the city can come up with money for the shelter.

“It would be good if we could have some kind of joint meeting to talk about it,” she said.

Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell and Supervisor Mike Lazarus said they are not surprised the city may not be able contribute funding for the shelter.

“They’re like us; they’re trying to keep a tight budget,” Lazarus said.

Adams County Emergency Management Director Stan Owens said he has made a formal request to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for additional funding.

Meant to be able to sustain an EF-5 tornado and be self-sufficient for 72 hours, the Federal Emergency Management Agency originally budgeted $2.906 million in federal grant funds for the 10,000-square foot project when it was given initial approval in 2009.

Adams County had planned to make up the difference in costs — a required five percent match — without putting actual dollars into the project by using in-kind contributions.

But the bids for the project came in a couple of weeks ago at approximately $3.6 million, and now the county is faced with coming up with additional funds.

Owens said he is “fairly confident” MEMA will grant the city an appropriation to offset the unexpected cost increase, which he said was partly caused because of increases in construction costs that accrued during the time the project was in planning.

The project spent nearly 10 months under FEMA review, Owens said.

The county is also exploring other uses for the shelter.

County Administrator Joe Murray said he contacted Pike County, which has a similar shelter, to see what else the building is used for other than a shelter.

Pike County, Murray said, rents out the facility, sometimes two or three times a weekend, for various events. The Pike County shelter is also sectioned off by a partition, so it can be rented by room.

Owens said the shelter cannot be used to make a profit from rentals.

“Anything you get would have to be used for utilities or other shelter expenses,” he said.

The original concept for the shelter is that Natchez High School, where the shelter would be located, would use the shelter for events and activities.

Owens said if it was decided the shelter would be rented out, the school district would handle that.

Grennell said the county may end up borrowing the money to cover the extra costs for the shelter.

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