County records damaged by water leaks

Published 12:48 am Sunday, January 7, 2007

Historical documents and records of Pearl River County’s early beginnings are kept in a dark, dank and leaky section of a dilapidated building.

The building lies across the street from the county courthouse and holds not only some of the historical documents and land roll records but various extra building supplies such as commodes, florescent light fixtures and hot water heaters. Those building supplies are kept in the dry section of the building while the records, some dating back more than 100 years, are dampened by a leaky roof each time it rains.

Most of the books kept in the now leaking building are land rolls from as far back as 1906 and there is even a town plat book for both Hancock and Pearl River counties. Those and two other books have visible signs of fungus growth on the them and were damp to the touch. Other documents kept in the building include old tax receipts, cash sheets and realty tax receipts.

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Chancery Clerk David Earl Johnson said the books were moved to that building by the last administration of Pearl River County Board of Supervisors about four or five years ago. Some of those same supervisors are in office this term. However, when those books and various other records were moved to the building, there were no roof leaks, Johnson said. Leaks in the roof of the building started sometime before Hurricane Katrina but only got worse since then in the last six months, Johnson said.

Currently, there are plans to try to shuffle some offices in the courthouse and the county around, possibly making room in the courthouse or other locations for the records kept in the leaky building, Johnson said. Those plans will need board approval, he said.

“Everything should be kept somewhere else dry. We just don’t have the space to do that,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he is just as responsible for those records as the board, but he has no place to put them.

Johnson said most of the records kept in the building across the street from the courthouse are not of much importance, but county abstractor Don Q. Hoyte had a different opinion, saying that those records are used when a resident has a question of how a property has changed hands and have a high historical value.

“Running a title is just like linking a chain together,” Hoyte said. “If we don’t know from where we came then we don’t have business being here.”

The courthouse is not much drier since roof leaks have also plagued the historical landmark for years. That leaky courthouse roof causes records in the chancery clerk’s office also to get wet when there is enough rain in the area, Johnson said. This past week, the courthouse has seen roof repairs and once the roof is repaired ,there will still be the matter of interior repairs that need to be done due to the substantial water damage the leaky courthouse roof has caused. Johnson said there are grants being applied for with the Department of Archives and History that may help with those renovations.

“When we get the roof fixed they should do this interior work,” Johnson said.

The problem is not isolated to the chancery clerk’s office. Circuit Clerk Vickie Harriel said she does not have an adequate place to store the voting machines that were purchased last year. Delicate electronics, such as those in the new voting machines, need to be kept in a climate controlled area. Currently, those machines are kept in an area of the courthouse that has no climate control. Harriel said there is plenty of room in the old jail located in the courthouse on the second floor, but it needs paint and a climate control system.

“There’s a lot of room in here that could be used for the entire voting system,” Harriel said.

There also are old marriage records in the circuit clerk’s office in need of some care, since they are becoming brittle with age, Harriel said. Those records could use a climate controlled area for storage and electronic backups so that when the public needs to do research they do not have to touch the delicate, aging documents.

“There’s a lot of history in here, and I just think it needs to be preserved,” Harriel said.

The building where the Tax Office and E-911 and Addressing Office also needs roof work. Tax Assessor Gary Beech said he has areas in the Tax Office where sunlight shines through the roof and naturally water also comes through when it rains.

“You can see the way the ceiling is, so many tiles have been ruined,” Beech said as he pointed to the ceiling in his office building.

Beech said the roof uses an inadequate drainage system on a flat roof that holds water on the roof. Sometime after Friday morning’s rain, the roof was still shedding water from the poor drainage system.

“It’s been several hours. You would think the water would be run off by now but it’s still dripping off,” Beech said.

No records in the Tax Office were in danger, Beech said.

Chief Building Inspector Kirk Pichon said his office, which shares the same building as the Tax Office, has only one leak, and it also poses no threat to records, at least at this time.

District II Supervisor Danny Wise, who was board president last year, said the board hopes to redo the building behind the courthouse where the sheriff’s office used to be. The old jail in the courthouse also is on the agenda for repairs to make it available for record storage with climate control.

The building with the Tax Office and Addressing Office should be fixed with insurance claims and Federal Emergency Management Funds, but the status on those funds was unavailable at press time. The grant from Archives and History to rehabilitate the inside of the courthouse has been applied for.

“We don’t know how much we’ll get, but it’s been applied for and gone through all the various steps to make it happen,” Wise said. “The board wants to do a very good job on that kind of stuff and make sure records are preserved for the history of the county and make sure it’s available to the future of the county.”

Wise said he suspects the old records in the building across the street have been put on microfiche, but he didn’t know for sure.