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Jacksonville Council ups mayor spending power for $2.5M tornado cleanup

Jacksonville City Hall

City Hall, on Church Avenue in Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE — City leaders raised the mayor’s spending and borrowing power on Friday to help cover at least $2.5 million in tornado cleanup work.

Mayor Johnny Smith warned that though he thinks the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the city for debris removal from Monday’s tornado, its not guaranteed. Regardless, the city has no choice but to start spending to restore the city, officials said.

“Although it’s a large amount of money, it has to be done,” said Councilman Jimmy Harrell.

The Jacksonville City Council increased Smith’s spending and borrowing power during a called meeting Friday. Specifically, the council authorized the mayor to start a revolving line of credit up to $1 million with Farmers and Merchants Bank to help pay for debris removal.

Also, Smith can spend up to $20,000 on contracts related to the tornado cleanup without council authorization, the council approved. Smith was previously limited to $5,000 in spending without needing the council’s okay.

Smith said the $2.5 million cost is still a rough estimate and that there may be more spending needed.

“For instance we’ve got a lot of street signs and stops signs damaged … that might not seem like a lot, but when you add it up it gets expensive,” Smith said. “Also, there could be a piece of equipment we might need.”

Smith added that even if FEMA had already approved federal assistance, the city couldn’t wait on that money to start work.

“Even if we do get that FEMA money, it won’t come quick,” Smith said.

Also during the meeting, the council approved a memorandum of understanding with the Calhoun County Commission, effectively giving the commission permission to handle all debris removal from city property.

Jonathan Gaddy, director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, who attended the meeting, said giving the county control of the cleanup gives the city access to cheaper state contracts for the work.

“It’s a pre-existing contract that we have in place for this sort of thing,” Gaddy said. “It’s already competitively bid for the best rates.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.