February 28, 2014 10:09:22 AM
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders is eager for the Riverwalk expansion to begin.
Sanders spoke to the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday about county projects including the pedestrian connection from the Riverwalk to the soccer complex at Burns Bottom that the county spent $4 million to build. The Mississippi Department of Transportation awarded an 80/20 matching grant to fund the work last year. Local firm Neel-Schaffer was given the contract for engineering services. The 11-month design schedule it was granted ended in January.
The Dispatch reported in September that the project extends the Riverwalk near the bridges on Moore's Creek and will come under the Hwy. 82 Bypass, ending at the soccer park's north end on Corretta Street. Sanders said that's still the plan and the improvements will take place east of the Tennessee-Tombigbee River.
"We've also met with the Corps of Engineers to see if we can't get a grant from MDOT to take the Riverwalk from the four-lane highway that crosses the river where it ends now all the way to the (Columbus) Lock and Dam," Sanders said.
He also updated club members on proposed improvements to the soccer complex as well as two fire stations to be built in the county -- one near Antioch Baptist Church on Hwy. 45 and another in Caledonia to join two recently built ones in Artesia and New Hope.
"We got complaints on opening day that we didn't have enough restrooms and concession stands," Sanders said about the soccer complex. "It's kind of like they think the park should have been built in one day."
Hospital fund investment accrues $1.2M through five months
Sanders also gave an update on the status of the county's trust fund, which was created through the $30 million sale of its hospital in 2006. Last October, the county handed $15 million each to Stephens Capital Management and Renasant Wealth Management to invest the money in exchange-traded funds. Through five months, the county portfolio has gained about $1.2 million.
"Last year, we invested (in CDs) for 12 months and we only made $60,000," he said.
He added that sometime between now and July 1, the board will decide whether or not to take any money out of the gain experienced before Jan. 1.
"My personal feelings right now is that we've already done our budget for this year and we didn't have anything in there to take any money out," he said. "I don't see any reason why we need to do it unless something big comes up that we want to splurge on. I don't see that happening, but we might take some of it out just to say we did."
Sanders: City not spending hotel tax money properly
One attendee asked Sanders about the status of the Trotter Convention Center, which the city of Columbus is currently in the process of renovating. On Thursday, the city opted to be the contractor of the $2 million project after bids from general contractors came in more than double the $1.65 million construction budget earlier this month.
Sanders explained that the county and the city had a "gentleman's agreement" that the county would pay for construction of the soccer complex if the city did the same for the Trotter without asking the county for financial assistance. The city collects a 2 percent hotel tax that pays for maintenance of the facility as well as Friendship Cemetery, the city and county's airport and Trotter Convention center Director Frank Goodman's salary.
"They're supposed to take that money and do any maintenance on the Trotter or anything on the Trotter that they need to do. The city puts that 2 percent every year in the general fund and they spend it on whatever the hell they want to," Sanders said. "They didn't put any back to re-do the Trotter, so they've gone and borrowed $2 million to re-do the Trotter. They're going to take $400,000 and pay architects and consultants and they're only spending $1.5 million on the Trotter. Then, they put it out for bids and say (they) can't spend more than this and what happens? They get them in and they're double."
Sanders also questioned whether the city was collecting all the facility's rent dues.
"You ask them, 'I thought the rent was supposed to pay all of that.' If you go back and look, probably they're not getting the rent but on 40 percent of the leases," Sanders said. "I don't think they're getting all their money and they're not spending it properly."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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