August 25, 2017 11:06:21 AM
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery and District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller say their fellow board members could be sinking money into a want, not a need, if Oktibbeha County pursues a new $2 million offer from former Mississippi State University basketball coach Rick Stansbury for his Starkville Wet 'N Wild property at Oktibbeha County Lake.
Stansbury's new deal -- one that helps the county avoid a single, lump-sum payment by instead allowing for a 10 percent down payment at closing followed by a 10-year financing plan -- was taken under advisement Monday but not before the board voted 3-2 to have the property appraised ahead of any potential negotiations.
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer and District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard have long been proponents of exploring a potential deal that would put the lake -- Stansbury holds two leases that give him and his business control of the body of water -- and the water park under county control since the former basketball coach approached supervisors with an offer last year.
Since obtaining the properties, Stansbury opened the water park, built rental cabins on the lakeshore and took control of the Starkville KOA campgrounds and its recreational vehicle hookup spots.
But questions of costs and liability associated with owning, operating and maintaining the water park and its infrastructure have both Miller and Montgomery saying the board needs to figure out the exact costs and benefits before pushing through a deal.
"There are wants, and then there are needs -- we've been very aggressive with improving our infrastructure. I don't support moving forward and spending $2 million on that project," Miller said. "Why is he not offering it to the public? Why does he keep coming to us? Why can't he sell the slides? The other (concerns) are staffing and the liability. (If the board does pursue a deal) ... make it where people can go swimming again, open the lake back up and rent the RV sites if you want to do that. But don't take on all of those other expenses."
Montgomery, who said his first priority is improving his constituents' roads, said Oktibbeha County would be bettered served if supervisors focus on infrastructure improvements rather than "be worried about a Slip 'N Slide" and its potential liability issues.
Howard and Trainer have both said they were open to operating the property as a public park for all Oktibbeha County residents in the past, and Howard said he was open to suggestions about how to move forward specifically with operating the water park with or without the slides.
"I think the price is very much negotiable. I believe we can approach it like with some of our other allocations in our budget: set aside a little money every year and put it toward that effort. Even if we have to consider financing ... we can come up with some very unique ways of getting it done," Trainer said. "(Placing Oktibbeha County Lake back under county control) is a big opportunity. We need to look at it ... and at least see what the opportunities are."
In January, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office delivered an opinion stating the county may obtain the property, operate it as a public facility and spend any revenue generated from usage fees and concession sales to cover operational costs or any debt created by its purchase.
One month later, supervisors entertained conducting a cost-benefit analysis of Starkville Wet 'N Wild's financials -- a study that would pour over his reported revenues and expenditures from past years -- but the board took no official action after Trainer said a deal was unlikely until repairs to the lake were made.
Almost $800,000 has been spent to shore up the lake's levy after rapid drawdowns -- when the lake's water level rises and falls in a short amount of time -- led to slope failures along Oktibbeha County Lake Road, and issues with seepage and the lake's slide gate and emergency spillway remain.
County Engineer Clyde Pritchard previously forecast a $5 million price tag to fully shore up the lake.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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