Be Ready: Jeffco Commission Makes Plans to Get and Keep Storm Sirens Functional; Announces Changes at Polls

Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight discusses the need for sirens during the Nov. 14, 2017, commission meeting. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Nov. 14, 2017 – Joe Knight conducted a show and tell presentation for his fellow commissioners at the Jefferson County Commission’s committee meeting Tuesday morning.

When he was done, the body agreed to go with the fourth of four options presented for addressing the issue of severe weather sirens throughout the county. The option selected calls for:

  • The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency to coordinate and oversee sirens.
  • EMA to enter contracts with a provider for the maintenance and repair of the sirens.
  • Each city to pay $400 for each siren in that city for yearly maintenance.
  • Jefferson County to pay $100,000 per year for repair and replacement of sirens.

“I think it puts it all where everybody understands what their role is with the sirens,” Knight said after the meeting. “It’s up to all governments to provide the safety issue to their citizens. By working with the EMA and letting them oversee it and the contractors they would use to do the maintenance and the repairs, that gives one central source. The cities would then be part of it and the county would be there as a backstop.”

Jim Coker, director of Jefferson County EMA, said the selected plan “puts everything under one umbrella.”

“It makes sure we have quality of control, uniformity across the county and it’s also a very good demonstration of how the cities and the county commission will work together to solve a complex problem,” Coker said.

The selected plan will be presented to mayors Thursday night at the Emergency Management Council meeting at Gardendale Civic Center. Coker said the prospect of cities paying annually for sirens previously was presented to mayors.

“Two cities – Warrior and Tarrant – have already sent us checks,” Coker said, adding that those checks will be returned. “We haven’t asked for checks, but I think that gives you the level of buy-in. I think they’re very interested in this. I think they realize the implications for public safety. Again, this is just one warning tool in the warning toolbox.”

The county is “all in” to the collaborative effort, Commission President Jimmie Stephens said.

“We want to work with all of our municipalities, large and small, to improve everyone’s quality of life and to have a division such as the EMA to go ahead and spearhead that,” he said. “I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Voting Matters

In another matter, commissioners agreed to move the polling precinct that has been at Fairfield Fire Station No. 1 to the George French Student Center on the campus of Miles College. This takes effect for the Dec. 12 special U.S. Senate election.

The move to the Miles campus should be welcome, registrar Barry Stephenson said, because it is more spacious with more handicap-accessible parking. He said all of their polling places are compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act, although some require more effort, like placing traffic cones in the lot.

“We’re trying to move to facilities in getting ready for the June 28 primary where we don’t have to set up anything,” he said. “Everything’s already there – ramps, signs, parking spaces, proper striping. That’s what we’re trying to move toward.”

Stephenson said the county will roll out electronic poll books at 15 to 20 precincts for next month’s election as part of a pilot program.

“The plan right now is to have Jefferson County have all 171 precincts with e-poll books for the June 28, 2018, primary,” the registrar said.

Stephenson was asked how Jefferson County would react to a possible change in the date of the U.S. Senate election, and how much that would cost.

“We deal with the known known, not the unknown,” he said. “Right now the election’s on December 12th. If something changes from a legal standpoint or an executive decision (of Gov. Kay Ivey’s), then the County Commission, the county manager and those of us involved in elections will then make a proper determination of what to do.”

Commissioner also discussed decorating common areas of the courthouse for Christmas holidays. That effort was placed on the back burner last year, Stephens said, as commissioners addressed other matters.

“We want the county courthouse to be receptive and we want it to be in the Christmas spirit,” he said. “It’s a new day in Jefferson County and that’s something we haven’t been able to communicate properly.

Commissioners will contribute from their district funds to provide for decorations.