Greene Commission discusses evacuee expenses

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2005

EUTAW-Greene County has been discussed as one of many areas that could be used to relocate evacuees from Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is estimated anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people could call Greene County home for at least a short period of time.

Naturally, an influx of this magnitude could create several problems for local governments. Monday the Greene County Commission discussed the financial and personnel strains such a plan could cause.

Commissioner William Johnson said he would like to see Greene County extend a helping hand, but he would also like to see things proceed with caution.

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“I am against people coming in who are distressed and need help,” Johnson said. “But I am very concerned about taking this load without taking a position.”

Johnson said the high numbers concerned him because they could add to problems that already exist in the county.

“We need jobs here now,” Johnson said. “For that amount of people coming in with no jobs, we are going to have to be on top of that.”

The biggest concern for the county was where the money to take care of the evacuees would come from. Johnson said the commission wanted to be prepared for everything before a decision was made on whether or not to locate these people in Greene County.

“Someone is going to have to come up with the money we will need to make this work,” Johnson said. “We will need money for the Sheriff’s Department, the hospitals and everybody is involved with that. We just want everyone to know we are not asleep on this.”

The commission estimated anywhere between $25 million and $30 million would be needed to accommodate evacuees. Among the many who would need significant increases in staff and equipment would be the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Johnny Isaac said his department would likely need $250,000 worth of upgrades in manpower, vehicles and training.

“I have no problem with us accepting evacuees, however the need for additional law enforcement would be pretty heavy,” Isaac said. “We would need at least five more arresting officers which would include the equipment that would go along with them.”

Time would be another problem according to Isaac. He said unless they are able to hire people who are already certified they could find themselves short for several months even if they put people in place immediately. They type of person located in Greene County is also a mystery. Isaac said there were several things to consider.

“It would take a minimum of 12 to 17 weeks to get someone certified,” Isaac said. “Another area we would need help in would be what type of people would come in. Whether some of them are criminals, some of them are sex offenders or have AIDS we have to take consideration of that and how we can immunize these people.”

Several other departments echoed Isaac’s sentiments saying they would also need a great deal of help in dealing with the displaced citizen’s. Some said they would need thousands of dollars, while others estimated their need to be in the millions.

Most of the figures presented to the commission were based on evacuees locating to Greene County for 18 months. However, the odds of most returning to Louisiana after 18 months were hard to gauge. Johnson said the county had to be ready to deal with having the evacuees in place for the long term.

“We can’t just go on the basis of a year and a half,” Johnson said. “We have to be ready in case they throw something on us we can’t handle. Some of them may be here forever.”

Sen. Bobby Singleton attended the Monday meeting and expressed praise for Greene County leaders addressing the problem before the county could be overwhelmed.

“I am very proud of Greene County,” Singleton said. “The way you have all responded so fast is great. Once we started getting the word out to people they took notice and really started coming together.”

Singleton said the aftermath of the hurricane had served to unite the people of Greene County.

“I have started seeing people come together in Greene County that needed to come together and make things work,” Singleton said. “I started seeing a disaster headquarters being set up almost immediately. People wanted to open their arms and open their hearts to people.”

Singleton said they would like to do their part to help evacuees, but there was still a tremendous need in Greene County.

“Yes, we want to take in and help the victims,” Singleton said. “But at the same time we have people right here in Greene County that continue to need help. While we are doing this we must also look out for the fact that we have several people who also need help.”

Singleton added several people in Greene County had suffered due to Katrina and hoped the federal government would take notice.

“We have some Greene Countians who were out of lights for seven days,” Singleton said. “We had people who had to go to work with gas at $3 a gallon making minimum wage. Let’s keep the focus at home also because we have people in Greene County who need our help also.”

Commissioner Donald Means said creating employment for the evacuees was another issue the county was in no position to solve.

“If the evacuees come here we want to make life better for them, not worse,” means said. “There is only one way to do that. If you bring 5,000 people here you are going to need to bring at least 3,000 jobs with them and we do not have jobs here for them.”