Supervisor angles for money for rural parks

January 2, 2010 7:34:00 PM

Jason Browne - [email protected]


Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks was hoping to prove a point in opposing a resolution Wednesday, but his protest didn''t go far. 


Brooks was initially the lone opposing vote on a resolution to ask state lawmakers to grant Lowndes County an additional 10 years to pay back a $13 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan. But just moments after the supervisors adjourned their meeting, the board reconvened so Brooks could reverse his vote. 


"It was never my intention kill the resolution. The resolution was important. It was just my opportunity to bring forward that we need some community development," explained Brooks afterward. "Here we are wanting to put millions in economic recovery, and justifiably so, but no one seems to be really concerned about community development." 


The USDA loan is intended to purchase a piece of land south of Mims Road near the Golden Triangle Global Industrial Aerospace Park to attract industry. A separate $17 million half-and-half loan/grant from the USDA is currently being used to develop the land. 


To receive permission from the state Legislature to extend the repayment period on the $13 million loan from 20 to 30 years -- a savings of $225,000 per year to the county -- county officials knew they likely needed a unanimous vote from the board to demonstrate unity. 


Brooks seized the opportunity to bring attention to a need for recreation funding in Artesia and Crawford. Artesia is in Brooks'' district. Crawford is in District 4, Supervisor Jeff Smith''s district. Brooks proposed taking $200,000 from the $3 million budgeted for a new Justice Court building to give both communities $100,000 for recreation without increasing spending. 


Brooks said his balk on the loan resolution was intended to leverage further discussion on how $4.8 million in hospital interest money would be spent around the county. The county has been accruing interest on the $30 million sale of Baptist Memorial Hospital--Golden Triangle in 2006. Smith had originally committed to vote "no" along with Brooks to better force the issue, but Smith "kind of ran from under me," Brooks said. 


Thursday morning, Smith said he voted in favor of moving forward with the resolution to meet time constraints. 


A package will be prepared for Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, and Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, containing a letter from Sanders explaining the board''s decision and intentions along with maps and plans to be taken to Jackson so they can begin the process of moving the resolution through House and Senate committees when the Legislature convenes, on Tuesday. Brooks had hoped to stall the resolution to force further discussion on county projects. He said the information still would have been provided to Chism and Brown in time. 


Smith likewise supports the project but wanted to table the matter until Monday when the board could further discuss the amount of money to be dedicated to Artesia and Crawford. 


"Some things we just rubber stamp with no discussion. But when there are other things about poor people out their working, trying to get something to improve their quality of life, it''s always an issue," Brooks said, Wednesday. 


"So you''d rather sacrifice 1,000 jobs?" asked District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders. 


"You''re not going to make me feel guilty about anything," Brooks shot back. "Are you willing to sacrifice the quality of life for all those people living in the rural part of the county?" 


All of the supervisors, including Brooks, had previously pledged their support to the resolution. The USDA loan, the 15-year general obligation bonds to finance the Justice Court building and the $4.8 million in hospital funds are unrelated, but Brooks wished to draw attention to where money would not be going. 


(GO bonds are debt instruments guaranteed by the issuing governing body usually for public works projects.) 


"It''s hard for us to sit idly by and (Crawford and Artesia) are looking and there''s proposals for (funding) for New Hope and Caledonia and everywhere else, and they''re asking us, ''Why were we cut out of the proposal?''" said Brooks. 


Smith agreed the communities west of the Tombigbee River were being neglected. 


"The conditions of the (recreation) facilities are awful. I ask every member of this board to go to Crawford and tour those buildings personally. Then come and tell me you can justify not putting something in there for them. I don''t think any man in here can walk in those buildings and look straight in my face and tell me those buildings don''t need some attention," said Smith. "There won''t be any more money anytime soon, so if we want to address the issue we''ve got to address it now." 


Sanders argued the money could not simply be given to Artesia and Crawford because interlocal agreements would force them to match the $100,000. Brooks refutes that claim. 


Passing the resolution doesn''t obligate the board to apply for the loan, but the understanding is that the county will seek the funds, County Attorney Tim Hudson pointed out. 




In other business the board: 


n Approved approximately $1,300 for a new car lighting rig for County Constable Willie "Hoot" West. 


n Authorized the purchase of two John Deere 6430 tractors from Scruggs Equipment for $93,572. 


n Accepted the donation of six acres of land at the Burns Bottom soccer complex and park location on behalf of On Good, Kenneth Burns and Dewayne Burns. 


n Took two applications for appointment to the Golden Triangle Regional Solid Waste Management Authority board under consideration until the next board meeting. Eric Thomas and Rick McGill have applied to replace Dale Tate, who is stepping down after four years. 


n Adopted a resolution to allow GTRSWMA to create a landfill at the intersection of Nashville Ferry Road and Sheffield Store Road. The landfill will store sludge from Columbus lagoons pending authorization from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.