Hattiesburg council wants answers, change to new flood rating

Hattiesburg council wants answers, change to new flood rating

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When the Hattiesburg City Council received word of the city's negatively effected flood rating, it was from residents whose insurance premiums increased, not the city's Urban Development Department.

"That just bothers me," Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden said.

The city's rating jumped two points, from a six to an eight, which also decreased the flood insurance discount from 20 percent to just 10 percent.

"The discovery of a loss of points such as this is a high priority for our division at this time," planning manager Ginger Maddox told the council.

However, some council members do not believe it is a priority for the city's Urban Development Department, considering the council was not informed of the flood rating change until five months after the administration was told and a budget was passed.

"If we had known this in the summer," Ward 3 Councilman Carter Carroll said. "We could have allocated funds in the new budget. We could have taken strides, and right now you're saying you're going to hire Ms. Reid as a contractor. That hasn't been done yet. A lot of months have passed by, almost half a year, and we've kinda sat on this."

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said he was made aware of the rating change this summer, and he said the information must have gotten lost on its way to the council.

"Why were we not notified until November?" Carroll asked Maddox in Monday's council work session.

"I don't know that I have an answer for that, I'm sorry," she said.

Maddox gave three reasons for a change to the city's flood rating: turnover in the planning division, loss of institutional knowledge and a change in point distribution through FEMA's rating system.

That institutional knowledge refers to previously mentioned Lisa Reid, who is a former employee who was in charge of the city's flood review submission to FEMA.

"One employee should not be the holder of knowledge and wherewithal to keep up with this important process," Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado said.

Additionally, Maddox said the city did not adhere to updating building codes under FEMA's new plan, which also affected the rating. Although she said she found out about the change this summer, Carroll presented a letter dated September 2014 that warns the city of a recommended rating change from six to eight.

"If I'd had gotten that, I would've gotten on the stick and said we've got to get something done," Carroll said.

Maddox said the letter was miswritten, and the 2014 date should have been 2013, referring to the visit by the raters. Either way, Carroll, like other council members, was frustrated the council was not immediately informed of the situation.

"That's wrong, people," he said. "We're supposed to help our citizens, not keep them in the dark."

Maddox said the city will apply for a recertification next year in hopes of bringing the city's rating back to where it was at a six.