By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
On Wednesday, Pearl River County supervisors told county planner Ed Pinero, Jr., to go through the courthouse with code enforcement personnel and document problems that need immediate attention and report back to them. Supervisors indicated they would then repair the most pressing problems using county maintenance personnel.
However, tackling a multi-million-dollar architect’s plan once proposed and rejected by the board seemed no closer, even after a Grand Jury Report recently recommended the plan be adopted although it entailed a substantial ad valorem tax increase if implemented.
Supervisors took the action after the most recent Pearl River County Grand Jury issued a report that recommended supervisors move forward on implementing the plan, a project that would carry an overall cost of $12 million, $1 million for upgrading the old courthouse constructed in 1918 and which is still being used.
The remainder would go toward adding two new wings, one on the south side and another on the north side of the old courthouse. The plan would have needed a 3.5 mill tax levy with which to retire a bond issue over 30 years.
The Grand Jury named 13 points that immediately needed attention in the old courthouse.
However, supervisors would not commit to the plan presented in 2011 voted down on May 2, 2011. Supervisors took the vote following a public hearing during which citizens seemed split evenly on whether or not to implement the project.
On May 2, 2011, supervisors J. Patrick Lee, Sandy Kane Smith, and Joyce Culpepper voted no, and supervisors Anthony Hales, Sr., and former supervisor Hudson Holliday voted yes. Dennis Dedeaux in 2012 replaced Holliday on the board when Holliday chose not to run for re-election and ran for governor.
Supervisors voted down the project 3-2 and have not, until Wednesday, addressed the subject again. They addressed it Wednesday because the Grand Jury brought it up. There was no new vote on the old plan taken on Wednesday.
Said Hales, “As long as the mind set of the board is the way it is, I know nothing is going to be done. Ten years from now you will be sitting here trying to make the same decision.”
Said Dedeaux, “Don’t we have some maintenance personnel that can repair some of these matters, and if we do it in-house, it will cost less?”
County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., said the county had two maintenance men, one in the south and one in the north.
Said Lee, “We know it’s a problem. Everybody on the board knows it is a problem. We have to figure out the best way to attack it.” Lee said the board would explore alternative ways in which to address the issue.
The board on Wednesday said it recognized there is a problem with deterioration of the old courthouse and the issue will, eventually, one way or another, have to be addressed. However, it set no timetable on the matter.
Smith on Wednesday said his mind had not changed since he voted against going forward with the proposed project in 2011. “I have not changed my mind,” said Smith.
On Wednesday, Smith suggested that franchise fees collected by the county be put in a set-aside account for specific application to a courthouse refurbishing project.
Hales said that would not work, that fees don’t generate enough money to do the project in a timely manner.
Hales said the time to do the project is right now, and that delaying it would cost the county more money in the long-run, as county buildings and the old courthouse deteriorate even more and construction and remodeling costs rise.
Culpepper asked Lumpkin if the county could tackle refurbishing the courthouse only. Lumpkin said it could and that preliminary cost estimates done during the last study said that courthouse electrical and plumbing upgrades alone would cost “right at $1 million.”
A complete remodeling of the Lamar County courthouse cost supervisors there $4.5 million. That county’s supervisors financed it with an extension of millage on an old bond issue and county and CDBG federal funds.
Hales said he hated to see the courthouse deteriorate more because it was also dangerous. He said the courthouse in Webster County recently burned down. News reports said the origin of the fire is unknown, but it destroyed the courthouse. That courthouse was constructed in 1913.
The Pearl River County courthouse was constructed in 1918.