June 3, 2014 10:29:44 AM
Oktibbeha County supervisors agreed to split an $8,000 fee with Mississippi State University to assess potential repairs at Miss. Horse Park Monday after pledging $4,000 and in-kind services for harness track fixes in April.
MSU Extension Director Gary Jackson asked the county to foot a $4,000 bill for Golden Triangle-based firm Neel-Schaffer to analyze large washes in the track that developed after years of inactivity.
Supervisors previously authorized Mississippi Trotting Association President Eric Tinsey and two of his associates to supervise repairs at the same cost, but Jackson said MSU must vet engineering work due to liability issues and follow state-mandated protocols for repairs.
Although Tinsey and his associates are not formal engineers, they have experience performing similar jobs across the nation. MTA Vice President Henry McDonald and Lawrence Cooper, a Kentucky-based track manager, were previously tapped to oversee repairs.
Cooper manages tracks, including the one in Terry, and performs similar repairs in Kentucky, including the Red Mile, which was founded in 1875.
Supervisors said they are wary of incurring additional expenses to bring the track up to racing standards.
Miss. Horse Park opened in 1999, and official races were later suspended due to a large dirt mound that blocked trotting association judges' view of the field. A grand re-opening was held in 2008 after MSU spent $500,000 to remove the hill, but holes in the track's surface prevent racers from using the facility.
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard asked why the county should pay engineering estimates and then costs associated with potential fixes when a simple resurfacing, as Tinsey previously said, would bring the track back to par, but Jackson said specific limestone testing was needed to grade the quality of materials below the surface.
Board members asked Jackson if county employees -- road department workers or County Engineer Clyde Pritchard, for example -- could perform potential repairs in order to mitigate further costs, but Jackson said he was unsure if state law would allow the in-kind services.
Jackson said the university is committed to re-opening the track for competition, but officials need commitments for its use before expending funding from the horse park's already-tight budget. Tinsey previously told supervisors he wanted to host an official harness race in June if repairs were made in a timely manner. Tinsey, who was in attendance Monday, upped his pledge to at least one race a month from June through September.
Miss. Horse Park has hosted four sanctioned harness track races since its opening in 1999. If it were to re-open, Tinsey said each event would provide a significant economic impact for Oktibbeha County as racers from across the state would travel to Starkville, stay in the city's hotels and spend their money at various restaurants and stores.
The horse park would also experience an increase in revenue as it collects rent from stall reservations.
Supervisors asked Jackson to approach Starkville aldermen about splitting engineering and future repair costs. Tinsey made a similar request to the board this spring, but aldermen did not take action on the matter.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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