September 18, 2012 10:18:29 AM
Word of mouth is a powerful thing.
Though the available agenda for the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors' Monday night meeting was slim and procedural, citizens packed the county courthouse anyway.
Discussions on two contentious, reoccurring issues -- the future of Oktibbeha County Hospital Regional Medical Center Oktibbeha County Lake -- were added to the end of the agenda, but motions for both failed by 3-2 margins.
First, District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard presented the board with a constructive contract proposing the county, with the help of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, take control of the Oktibbeha County Lake.
Under the contract, the county would be responsible for a $45,000 yearly lease while the GTPDD would maintain day-to-day operations of the lake.
Portions of the lake, including the pavilion and boat-dock, are located on 16th Section land that belongs to the Oktibbeha County School Board. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries ended its lease on the property earlier this year.
The Dispatch reported in August that the school board had yet to receive any lease proposals even remotely close to the mandatory price of $100 an acre.
In August, former Mississippi State University basketball coach Rick Stansbury and Starkville resident John Barnett offered to pay $25,000 a year for the land, but in accordance with the 16th Section Reform Act of 1978, the school board rejected it because the school board cannot legally accept anything lower than the appraised value.
Howard said he saw the proposed contract between GTPDD and the county as the only responsible way to ensure the lake remains open for public use.
"Now we just have to approve the contract," Howard said.
But District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer interjected and said he received a call from Stansbury and Barnett.
"They are willing to pay the required price," Trainer said. "We need to wait and see if this transaction will materialize."
Despite Stansbury and Barnett being willing to pay the appraised price, Howard disagreed with Trainer saying the lake had been closed long enough.
"The lake has been closed six months and they have had opportunity after opportunity to lease the lake," Howard said. "Now at the 12th hour, now that we want to lease it, they are suddenly ready."
However, Howard's biggest concern was obviously public usage, which could not be guaranteed under a contract with Stansbury and Barnett, or any private owner.
"Money has already been budgeted without a tax increase," he said. "We need to guarantee (the lake) remains open to the public, and we need to do that by funding it with public dollars."
District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams agreed with Trainer's stance to wait and look at other proposals.
"We have funding, but that funding isn't ear-marked for the lake," Williams said. "It's just for some project that the board wants to take on, that it deems most important.
"I think we have time to wait until we get some more bids in."
Prior to the vote, Howard expressed his sentiments bluntly.
"It's a shame that is a publicly-owned place built and paid for by tax-payer dollars, wouldn't be open to them," he said. "I just think it is a tragedy, especially when this board has the funding without a tax increase.
"I think it is irresponsible."
The motion was made by Howard and seconded by District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery, but Trainer, Williams and District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson voted no, defeating the proposal.
The second added item, which seems to draw much of the crowd, was a discussion and motion by Trainer to move forward with selecting a consultant to do an analysis on OCH Regional Medical Center.
Trainer said, as of Friday, the board had received four proposals, with bids ranging from $69,000 to $35,000 for a complete analysis, including a review of inpatient needs, comparable competitive market services, OCH strengthens relative to competition and owners options as far as selling, leasing or keeping the property as it is.
According to Mississippi law, an analysis on the hospital must be conducted before any kind of transaction can take place.
"I think a lease is premature," Trainer said. "But I think everyone here wants the best. I think once we get facts it will be an easier process to go through."
Trainer suggested the board select HORNE, a Jackson-based firm, and the only firm in the state capable of completing the necessary analysis.
The answer, according to Jackson, lies with hospital management.
"I think the answer is asking the hospital to look seriously at restructuring your debt, and taking over this millage on your own," he said. "Before the bond issue, there was no look into selling the hospital.
"You get so much flack once it costs people something, but you never see anyone put their name on a letter to the editor."
When it came time to vote on whether or not to accept the bid from HORNE, Jackson abstained again, as did Howard and Montgomery, while Williams and Trainer voted for the proposal, resulting in a 3 to 2 defeat.