Ben Hill board approves new emergency ordinance

Commissioners discuss the Local Emergency Operation Plan ordinance. / Jessica Fairley

Ben Hill County commissioners have approved a measure to keep citizens safe when there is a disaster.

The board voted on a Local Emergency Operation Plan ordinance that would make it a requirement for residents to follow the commands of officials when there is a disaster.

Several years ago when a tornado struck an area within the county, commissioners issued a curfew but at that time it was only a suggestion and not a code of law.

"If somebody decides to violate curfew on a situation like that then there's not much penalty for it, it's more of a suggestion, but if it's in code it allows civil penalties," said Scott Downing, Ben Hill County Commissioner.

The new emergency code is a change that many counties across the state of Georgia will adopt in 2013. Officials can use the code for a wide variety of disasters.

"If you have a train come through town or a tanker was to turned over and spilled chlorine or something like that, it gives us the latitude to set up a parameter to not allow people in that area for a certain amount of time, even if they may have a home there," said Scott Downing.

Also during Wednesday's special called meeting, officials went over the budget for 2012. After a year of financial concerns, commissioners say the county ended the year with their finances in the black.

"Our tax commissioner was very aggressive in going after back taxes. I think that was one of the things that helped us in being able to come in as well as we did at the end of the year," said Frank Feild, Ben Hill County Administrator.

Feild says although the county still has back taxes to be collected, they can't rely on those taxes to keep them afloat in the future.

Since 2013 started with a clean slate, the goal is to stay on track.

"We've set up a process where every month we're going to sit down with our departments and the commission will review where we're at," said Frank Feild.

He says if a department feels they need more money at some point, they can make a case to the county's board of commissioners.

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