By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
On Wednesday, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told Poplarville Rotarians that under his tutelage as secretary of state, sixteenth section school land income to local schools has increased significantly.
He was speaking to the Rotarians at a noon luncheon on the Pearl River Community College campus. The Secretary of State’s office, under current state statutes, is responsible for helping manage sixteenth section school lands.
He said that there are some in the State Legislature who want to go back to the old way of managing the school lands, where they came under exclusive control of local school boards, and the Secretary of State had no say-so in management of lease agreements. He said he will “fight” for the right to continue to oversee lease agreements and signing off on leasing the school lands.
He said sixteenth section school land revenues were “critical” in helping to pay for education of Mississippi’s youth, and every penny earned off the lands goes directly to school coffers.
Hosemann said that since he assumed office in 2008, sixteenth section school land annual revenue to Poplarville schools has increased from $246,000 a year to $327,000 a year, an approximately $80,000 per year increase.
He told Rotarians that sixteenth section school lands comprise about 640,000 acres statewide and they were generating an overall $53 million a year, but last year generated $75 million in revenue for local school districts throughout the state.
“Overall,” said Hosemann, “sixteenth section school land revenues amount to about a $100 million annual business, all of which goes directly into the school districts’ accounts used to educate our children.”
Pointing to the past abuse of school lands, Hosemann said the management of sixteenth section school lands had become in Mississippi, at one time, a “good ole boy system.” But that has now changed, he said.
He pointed to management changes and implementation of new procedures which began under former Secretaries of State Dick Molpus and Eric Clark and have continued under his management and oversight, as reasons for increasing revenues from the lands.
He added that, at one time, the state had no forestry management plan on the school lands, although 400,000 acres were covered in forests that needed to be managed in order to generate maximum income.
“We now have management plans on every section. I can tell you when we are going to cut and how much we are going to get,” he said. “Timber revenues are up about $12 million a year, even though timber prices have fallen.”
Hosemann said he was at one time signing off on an annual average of about 3,000 sixteenth section land leases and rejecting about 12 percent of them, because districts were not getting fair market value on them. He said that rejection is now down to about 3 percent “because people got the message.”
He admitted facing pressure when he demanded to sign off on leases. “When you do that some people get mad at you,” he told Rotarians.
“Usually, some of the people doing the leasing get mad at you. One time I did some leasing in Carroll County, and the hunting lease went up from $1 an acre to $5 an acre. And I received a little message from Carroll County that there wasn’t enough orange in the state for me to hunt deer in Carroll County,” he said, prompting a round of laughter.
“Needless to say right now, I don’t hunt in Carroll County,” he added.
“There are some people in the State Legislature who want to put it back the way it was. They want just the school board to manage the lands and not the secretary of state anymore because we are upping their hunting fees,” he said. “We did make some people mad, no doubt.
“But these lands are owned by your children and are there for them, and that $100 million would have been squeezed from you through ad valorem taxes if it had not been generated by these school lands,” said Hosemann. “We will continue to fight for the proper management of these lands.”
Hosemann is a native of Warren County, and came to the office with a background in business and taxation law. He is a former partner of Phelps Dunbar, LLP, and was selected to the Best Lawyers in America for 18 consecutive years.
He’s an avid hunter and a marathoner, having competed in the New York City Marathon.