December 4, 2012 10:31:03 AM
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors has asked the county administrator and board attorney to work on hammering out a deal that would lease the remainder of Oktibbeha County Lake.
In November, the Oktibbeha County School District signed a 25-year lease with Rick Stansbury and John Barnett for almost 312 acres of 16th section land, which included most of the county lake except for approximately 95 acres the county owns.
Oktibbeha County Lake was previously leased by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, but after the land was reappraised at $100 an acre, MDWFP chose not to renew their lease in April.
The lake has been closed to the public since that time.
Supervisors agreed on two things: Oktibbeha County Lake should remain open to the public and getting someone to lease the remaining portion is critical.
The county maintains liability for anything that happens on their portion of the land until it is leased, and since Barnett and Stansbury have already taken control of the majority of the lake, the board is looking to the duo to work out a deal for the remaining acres, which are made up primarily of water.
District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson was one of the most vocal supporters of getting the land off the county's hands.
"Someone needs to sit down with (Barnett and Stansbury) and see if they still want it," Jackson said. "We don't need anything out there to worry about, and it's really a win-win if we get anything on it."
Jackson asked county administrator Don Posey and board attorney Jack Brown to figure out what is feasible.
But board president Orlando Trainer said Barnett and Stansbury actually thought they were bidding on the entire, publicly-owned portion of the lake -- both the 16th section land and the land the county owns.
"Now we have some county property that we need to decide what to do with," Trainer said. "They were under the assumption that they were getting the same deal, as far as acres, that we had given the MDWFP, but I think they want the land, we just need to figure out what we want to ask for it."
The main concern for District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard is not just making sure the land is leased but making sure the county-owned land remains open to the public, too. He suggested trying a year-to-year lease rather than the 25-year lease the school board made, which was required by state law. That law does not apply to the county.
"I'd rather it be year-to-year so we have some control over whether or not it stays open and we can hold their feet to the fire a little more," Howard said. "I'm hoping they can find a way to keep it at least reasonably open."
In other board action, the supervisors tabled a potential contract with Slaughter and Associates for a comprehensive plan for the county.
All of the supervisors agreed that the county needs a strategy to accommodate future growth and development, but District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery was particularly concerned that the plan could open up the possibility of a zoning ordinance.
"It seems like a window to a future board, at least," he said. "In my personal opinion we are opening Pandora's box. When you start zoning out in the county, we are overstepping our bounds, and that is the next thing that could come from this. I'm not saying it will, but it could. I have a major problem with that."
Representing Slaughter and Associates, Mike Slaughter tried to reassure Montgomery that a zoning ordinance would be an entirely separate document and would have to go through the same steps it normally would, even without the comprehensive plan. A land-use plan is required, however, for the state to officially recognize the county's comprehensive plan.
"According to legislation, that is one of the elements required," Slaughter admitted. "But it would only be a guide if you ever wanted to do some zoning. If there is something the board wants to strike though, just tell us, but I assure you this comprehensive plan has nothing to do with zoning."
Montgomery said he understood but remained wary.
Slaughter is expected to appear before the board again at its next meeting.
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