Article Comment 

Supes divided over bond money


Kristin Mamrack



Lowndes County supervisors Jeff Smith and Leroy Brooks Tuesday again made appeals to improve the quality of life for residents of Crawford and Artesia, using part of a bond issue approved for renovations and additions.  


The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to authorize the issuance of $7.75 million in general obligation bonds to finance a soccer complex for the Burns Bottom area, a renovation of the Lowndes County Courthouse and construction of a new Justice Court building. 


The vote means the supervisors are authorized to issue the bonds, if they are needed; the supervisors did not vote to issue the bonds. 


The supervisors earlier committed to and authorized $3.25 million for the soccer complex on 70 acres in the Burns Bottom area; construction on the project is expected to begin in January. 


County Administrator Ralph Billingsley estimated the courthouse renovations, for which the supervisors recently approved base plans, likely will cost about $1 million and the Justice Court building, to be constructed on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, north of the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, will cost about $2.5 million. 


Additionally, $1 million will be used to pay off a bond earlier issued for construction of the jail. 


The bond issuance likely will cost the county $675,690 at 4.5 percent interest and a 15-year term; no millage increase will be necessary, Billingsley reported. 


"I think this is a fine opportunity to be fair to make sure Crawford and Artesia get their share of recreation money," Brooks said, suggesting each town be given a "minimum of $50,000," but $100,000 each would be most beneficial. Neither Brooks nor Smith specified how the money would be spent, except to be used to improve recreation or "quality of life" issues, but they noted a plan from the municipalities for using the money would be required. 


Artestia is in Brooks'' district, District 5; Crawford is in Smith''s district, District 4. 


"If we don''t do it, they will never reach the level they need to," Brooks added. "(We can) be fair to those municipalities, without raising taxes. We need to take care of those communities. They''re part of the district." 




Hospital interest 


Billingsley noted the county, at the end of September, will have $5.2 million of interest money from the sale of the hospital to Baptist for $30 million. 


The recent purchase and renovation of the former First Federal Bank building, which now is being used as administrative office space for the county, was funded with the interest money, as was construction of the new Health Department facility at 801 Lehmberg Road. 


Part of a recent plan to renovate the county''s neighborhood parks and the purchase of land for the soccer complex also was funded with the money, but since the courthouse renovations now will be completed with the bond issue, $700,000 will remain from the hospital sale interest money, Billingsley said. 




Quality of life 


"I want the people I represent to have the same quality of life," Brooks said, noting Crawford and Artesia officials would be required to submit plans detailing how the money would be spent.  


"It''s not your money," he added to Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders, who objected to using bond issue money on either municipality. "It is the taxpayers'' money. All these people are taxpayers. They go to work; they do the same thing as (the people) in Caledonia. We''ve got these two little towns out there. They need to rise with everybody else. This is not 1950, and we''re going to leave some children barefoot. Let''s put some shoes on everybody." 


"There was an (earlier) commitment from this board to address Crawford and Artesia," said Smith, referring to the county''s commitment to fund the plan to renovate neighborhood parks and recreation, which was made after an appeal from Brooks and Smith for money also to be spent in Crawford and Artesia. "All I''m asking this team to do is to be team players." 




Bond-issue vote 


The board initially voted 4 to 1 to authorize the bond issue, with Brooks voting in opposition. But Smith later changed his vote, after Brooks made, and then withdrew, a separate motion to allocate up to $75,000 to Crawford and up to $75,000 to Artesia, from the hospital sale interest money. 


"Artesia and Crawford get money every year from Parks and Recreation," Sanders said, noting no money is allocated to Caledonia from the budget of the Parks and Recreation Department, which operates through an interlocal agreement with the city and county. 


"It seems like we''re going backwards again," Smith said. "The plan was to address recreation countywide, by phasing in these projects.  


"It''s not fair," he continued, referring to a comprehensive plan earlier commissioned by the county, which noted recreational opportunities were lacking in Crawford and Artesia. "The simplest things have been denied. Why are we depriving (those areas)? Those people out there have a right to the same quality of life the rest of the county has grown to appreciate. Those areas need help and we need to help them. It''s not us saying it; it''s the plan that we paid for." 


Brooks withdrew his motion and Smith rescinded his vote on the bond issue. 




Disagreement over grant match 


The supervisors earlier voted to pay a required match -- $1,000 -- on a $42,000 grant to repair a water well on O''Neal Street in Crawford. 


Crawford Mayor Fred Tolon, reporting a "mishap" with the well, asked for help with the emergency grant. 


"We''re setting a precedent with a county getting involved in a municipality," Sanders said. 


"Crawford, Miss. is just as much a part of Lowndes County as Columbus, Miss.," said Brooks. "It''s insulting to the citizens of Crawford we would even have a discussion about $1,000. These people are a part of Lowndes County; it''s as simple as that." 


"We all recognize the situation in Crawford," Smith said. "I think it behooves us to step in and do what we can to help. We''re talking about $1,000 to help this town get on their feet. This is ridiculous." 


"The thousand dollars is not of great magnitude," said Sanders. "But the principle of us giving money to a municipality is." 


"These people need water," Brooks noted. 


The supervisors voted 3 to 2 to spend $1,000; Sanders and District 3 Supervisor John Holliman voted in opposition. 




Redrawing the lines 


In another matter, the supervisors voted to hire Oxford-based consultants Bridge and Watson to handle countywide redistricting following the upcoming release of U.S. Census Bureau data. 


Bridge and Watson developed the county''s last redistricting plan, 10 years ago, for a cost of $71,000, but the cost for a new plan likely will be between $40,000 and $45,000, Billingsley said. 


"I think it''s premature to hire them," Brooks said, noting he wanted a "subcontractor to make sure all the rights of the citizens are protected." 


The previous plan was a "bad plan," Brooks added, explaining the "dynamic of the county has changed." 


Brooks made a substitute motion Bridge and Watson consult with a "minority company" consultant to "ensure the protection of minority rights," but the motion failed in a 2-to-3 vote; Sanders, Holliman and District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson voted against the motion. 


The motion to hire Bridge and Watson passed in a 3-to-2 vote, with Brooks and Smith voting in opposition.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment i commented at 9/1/2010 1:07:00 PM:

Give Caledonia $ 75,000.00 too.


Article Comment rosewood commented at 9/1/2010 1:08:00 PM:

Way to go Harry,
You are such an arrogarant SOB. How do you sleep at night?
You should be concerned for the welfare of ALL the people of LOWNDES county. If it isn't in YOUR district then to H#LL with any of the other people.


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