FAST & FIRST – FEMA mandated floodwall inspection will hit city finances hard

City officials took early action to comply with a federal mandate that will mean a big hit on the upcoming city budget.

Mayor Darren West told council members that under a Federal Emergency Management Act requirement, the city has until the fall of 2015 to have the city’s floodwall inspected and certified.

West noted that failure to do so would mean that homeowners inside the city limits would have to purchase flood insurance.

“If we fail to do this, on paper it would look like we don’t have a floodwall,” he said.  

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West said the city must first advertise statewide for documents from engineering firms that are qualified to do such inspections.

Although the cost of such an inspection is not yet known, Barbourville Utility Commission superintendent Josh Callihan guessed the inspection could be as high as $200,000 or more. The commission is the agency charged with upkeep of the wall.

“This is a FEMA requirement. Our floodwall is in good shape, but this has to be done,” he said, adding that in past years, the Corps of Engineers has performed routine inspections on the general condition of the floodwall and floodgates.

He said that when news of the possible requirement of a floodwall inspection first came down more than a year ago, the city was initially given the impression that the Corps would do the inspection.

Callihan said that once the city advertises for requests for qualifications, and proposals are submitted, the city can discuss price.

West said he feels that the requirement of the inspection places an unfair burden on small communities such as Barbourville.

“The poorest park of the state gets stuck with the end of the stick. It seems to me that the money should be coming from the feds,” he said.

In other action, West said the city is exploring the possibility of entering into a gasoline purchase agreement with Fleet One, who has a state contract for supplying fuel.

West said that under the system, each city vehicle operator would have a fuel purchase card connected with the vehicle.

“Each card would have a PIN number attached,” he said.

West said the city could then log onto a website and track such things as usage and fuel economy.

Mountain Advocate owner Jay Nolan spoke to the council concerning the city’s planned sale of a public parking lot adjacent to the Stark building.

Nolan said he had been contacted by owners of the Stark building asking that he go to the council meeting to discuss options for an easement if the property is sold

The city is slated to open sealed bids on the property Friday.

Nolan said that if the property sells without provisions for an easement, both the Stark building and the Mountain Advocate would be left with no access to the rear portions of their building.

He noted that because rear access to the buildings are privately-owned, and often gated off, the buildings would essentially be “landlocked.”

Nolan said that Knox PVA Bill Oxendine said lack of rear access could decrease the buildings’ property values, therefore reducing the amount of property tax revenue paid to the city.

City council members agreed to continue with plans to open bids, but agreed to take a closer look at their options before accepting a bid.

Council members also unanimously agreed to contract with local attorney Chris Mills to do legal work for the city.

West said current interim city attorney Charley Greene Dixon has done a great job, but is currently battling medical problems.

Mills contract will run through the end of the year, at which time it will be reviewed.