By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
PURVIS, Miss. —
The Lamar County board of supervisors has just about completed a full restoration of its historic Main Street courthouse, originally constructed in 1905, and Lamar County Administrator Chuck Bennett says the process took, overall, about eight years, when you count the preliminary efforts by him and the Lamar County board of supervisors.
Actual construction will have taken about two years when the courthouse is finished this Spring.
The restoration and refurbishing will be complete, down to the installation of period, turn-of-the-century new drapes, matching the style originally installed in the courthouse when it was built in the early 20th Century. Widely known historical architect Robert Parker Adams is guiding the restoration work. Witherington Company is doing the work.
“We have determined to do this project, and do it right,” said Bennett. “We are restoring not only a government office building, but a piece of Lamar County history.”
Pearl River County supervisors face a similar refurbishing and restoration project with the Pearl River County courthouse, and the latest Pearl River County Grand Jury has thrown the issue back into the Pearl River County supervisors’ lap with its latest Grand Jury Report, when it said that now is the best time to tackle the project because of low interest rates.
Highlighting that fact is that Lamar County was able to land a 1.65 percent interest rate on its bonds. “We couldn’t believe it,” said Bennett, “it was the best rate we have ever obtained.”
The last time that the Pearl River County courthouse issue came up, supervisors voted 3-to-2 against tackling the project, turning down implementing an architectural plan already drawn up for the endeavor.
Lamar’s restoration of its main courthouse cost $4.5 million, $3 million of which came from a bond issue, which requires the extension of millage, and the remaining $1.5 million from local county funding and federal CDBG money.
In Pearl River County, plans outlined by a Hattiesburg architect and presented at a public hearing called for $1 million to be spent on refurbishing the courthouse, and called for an overall $12 million that would have seen two wings added onto the old structure so satellite county offices could all be gathered under one roof. That would eliminate upcoming maintenance and repair costs, and the Grand Jury pointed out that money wasted on deteriorating structures could be saved and go into the new project.
However, on Friday Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., told the Picayune Item that he did not think anything had changed since the last negative vote on the issue on May 2, 2011.
“I don’t see any support right now for proceeding with plans to upgrade and refurbish the courthouse,” he told the Picayune Item in an interview concerning the issue.
“I am not adverse to bringing up the subject again and discussing it,” said Hales. “I said I wouldn’t bring up the subject again when it was voted down, because I was so disappointed about the ‘no’ vote of the board.”
Hales and former Supervisor Hudson Holliday voted to proceed with the project, and supervisors Joyce Culpepper, J. Patrick Lee and Sandy Kane Smith voted not to proceed, thus killing the project in the May 2, 2011, vote. Holliday since the vote has been replaced in District Three by Dennis Dedeaux. Holliday, running for governor, did not seek re-election as a supervisor.
Bennett says refurbishing the Lamar courthouse cost Lamar about $4.5 million. He said about $3 million was raised in a bond issue, and another $1.5 million was contributed from other sources, $1 million in county funds and about $500,000 from a federal Community Development Block Grant.
He said that the courthouse remodeling — done under the wary eye of state officials who enforce state historical guidelines for structures deemed historically significant in Mississippi, which includes the state’s courthouses — will be completed in the next few months, and has taken about two years to complete
He said $3 million of the costs is being retired by extension of an old millage rate tied to a prior bond issue that was retired. “We have had no negative responses to this project, because we essentially are doing it without a new tax increase. We extended a millage already in place,” said Bennett. “We also have a very low indebtedness.”
Pearl River County doesn’t seem as fortunate. County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., told the Grand Jury that it would take a 3.5 mill levy to retire over 30 years a $12 million bond issue to do the whole project outlined by planners here.
However, some officials, such as Sandy Kane Smith, said he might be amenable to the project if it were scaled down. Culpepper said she felt the same way as Smith. These sentiments by Smith and Culpepper were expressed when the issue was voted down in 2011. They have not spoken openly about it since then.
Hales said the board might discuss the issue at its Wednesday meeting, but he wasn’t sure.
“We might need to discuss it, but I don’t really know the sentiments of the board, or how fellow supervisors feel about the issue, whether or not they have changed their minds,” said Hales.
Officials said during the last debate that there might be some state funds, up to $5 million, available for the courthouse upgrading project, but officials said that so far no one has looked into the availability of the funding. Things have changed, said one official, over the last year-and-one-half.
The Grand Jury is a jury of 12 citizens selected from a pool of electors. It has the power to investigate just about any matter it votes to, and is perhaps the most powerful government body in the county when in session. The Grand Jury hears criminal cases that are generated from local city police and the sheriff’s department, and decides whether there is enough evidence to indict.
Two Grand Juries per year are impaneled, and when they are through with their work, under the help and advice of the DA, they issue their Grand Jury report and end their respective session.
The foreman of the latest Grand Jury to issue its report was Reba Beebe.