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County seeks help with siren system

Crawford County officials asked city heads to take on part of the costs of maintaining the tornado warning siren system during an intergovernmental meeting Wednesday.

Dennis Gilstrap, director for the Crawford County Department of Emergency Management, and Crawford County Judge John Hall met Wednesday with mayors or representatives from the county’s nine cities to ask if they would take on part of the costs for maintaining and repairing the 22 warning sirens.

Gilstrap requested the cities pay in $750 every year for each siren located within their boundaries to a collective fund that would then be used for repair and maintenance. If unused, the money would roll over to the next year, he said.

“From everything I looked at, I thought that was about the fairest way to take care of it,” Gilstrap said in the meeting.

Crawford County received a $500,000 grant for the siren system in 1996 after a tornado struck the area. Cost to install the system - completed in 1998 - was $330,000, and the leftover money has been used to maintain the system since then.

Only about $10,000 of the grant money is left, and a current maintenance project may clean that out, Gilstrap said.

Cost to maintain the system is $15,000 to $20,000 per year, he said.

County officials have looked at other warning system option, but none so far have met the requests of residents and been cost efficient, he said.

An omni-directional replacement system, with four non-rotating sirens pointed in each direction and requiring less maintenance, would cost $28,000 for each site, Gilstrap said. That’s a total of $657,000 and well beyond the county’s financial reach.

Gilstrap also checked into an automated phone notification system, which is more affordable at $23,000 annually. But many residents have told Gilstrap they want the sirens to remain in operation, even with a notification system, he said.

If cities agreed to take on their “share” of the costs for maintaining the current system each year, Van Buren would pay out $5,250 for its seven sirens, Alma $2,250 for its three and Mulberry $1,500 for its two.

Crawford County would contribute $3,000 for the four sirens in unincorporated areas, and Cedarville, Kibler, Mountainburg, Dyer, Chester and Rudy would only pay out $750 every year for their one siren each.

While most mayors told Gilstrap the money was not currently in their budget, they agreed to look at finding funds for the cost-share in 2015.

Gilstrap’s cost-share idea was based on the one the county currently has with all cities for the operation and maintenance of the HAZMAT response program, which all attending mayors again signed at Wednesday’s meeting.

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