By Toni Stauffer
At the May 20 Russell County Commission Work Session, Commissioner Chance Corbett made a motion for a Public Safety Project feasibility study be approved for consideration of a new building, or location, to house Emergency Management operations. Commissioner Gentry Lee seconded. Under the proposed plan, a new building, or location, would bring all emergency services under one roof to form an Emergency Operations Center for the county.
Corbett said a project committee is needed, and those he requested were Sheriff Heath Taylor, EMA Director Bob Franklin, E-911 Director Dana Murphy, Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith, Phenix City manager Wallace Hunter, and himself.
“This isn’t a new idea,” Corbett said. “This is going on all across the state of Alabama. There are a lot of places that have built emergency operation centers.”
The location of Prentiss Drive and 5th Street South was suggested as a possible build site. Corbett added that Elmore County was able to get a $1 million grant to build their emergency operations center.
“The stars are lined up right now,” Corbett said. “The sheriff is president of his association, Bob (EMA Director) is president of his association…we know the outgoing FEMA director personally, and I know the incoming FEMA director personally. We need to strike while the iron’s hot. We need to look at grant funding. Not to mention that our 9-1-1 is renting their building currently.”
Commissioner Reed added his thoughts to the discussion. “It would be in our best interest if we started some type of construction because 9-1-1 is paying about $3,000-$4,000 a month in rent,” Reed said. “We can save that money here if we had our own building.”
The actual amount of rent paid each month by E-911 is $1,900, according to E-911 director Dana Murphy, and there is a five-year lease that was signed in April 2017.
“Commissioner Reed not only voted to pay the $1,900 a month,” Murphy said, “he also was the one who made the motion.” Murphy added that the E-911 building they are in is ideal for what they currently do.
“I think there are a lot of moving parts,” Sheriff Taylor said. “This is kind of a one-shot deal. If you don’t get it right, you’re going to regret it down the road.”
He added that his department is out of storage room and that if he could utilize the building(s) vacated by the EMA, his office could have a better evidence system.
“We’re out of space,” Taylor said. “You can’t just get rid of evidence.”
Another problem is that currently the EMA is in a metal building, which is bad because of possible lightning.
“If that building gets hit, our whole center of operations is gone,” he said. Taylor added that he thought the Prentiss Drive location proposed would be perfect. Further discussion determined it would be less expensive to build a new building designed for the EMA’s purpose rather than trying to retrofit technology into an existing building.
When the item was brought up under Business at regular session on May 22, Judge Alford Harden said that the Probate Office is out of space as well. He is required to hold records for a specified amount of time by state law, and they have to be accessible. Lack of storage could put his office out of compliance. Harden requested that the Commission consider his dilemma when the topic is revisited in the future.
Commissioner Reed made a motion for tabling the item, stating that since the public safety project would be in his district, he would like to see the coroner serve on the committee, or he might have someone else in mind. He said he felt the Commission was moving too fast. Commissioner Larry Screws seconded.
Showing consternation, Commissioners Corbett and Lee said that Reed could have just asked that the coroner be added to the committee. Commissioners Lee and Corbett voted no to the tabling; Chair Peggy Martin, Commissioner Reed, Commissioner Cattie Epps, and Commissioner Larry Screws voted yes. Commissioner Carl Currington wasn’t present. The motion was tabled.