County looking at ways to jump-start local economy

Published 1:47 am Tuesday, December 23, 2008

At Monday’s Pearl River County Board of Supervisors meeting, Board members explored a number of ways to jump-start economic growth through-out the county.

One of those ways was an immediate decision to waive county building permit fees for the first three months of the year, as long as the construction for the project was started within six months.

“I talked with board members,” said Board of Supervisors President Anthony Hales. “And everyone is trying to do something to stimulate economic growth. And one of the ways we can do that is to suspend building permit fees for January, February, and March.”

Hales said that for the fees to be waived, the project must be started within six months of obtaining the permit, but that it did not need to be completed within that six months. “We are trying to stimulate economic growth,” repeated Hales. “But they will still have to have it inspected and it has to meet code requirements.”

In another, more ambitious project to stimulate economic growth, board members heard from Pickering Firm Inc., a transportation engineering firm out of Jackson, concerning the long-sought after goal of rebuilding Ridge Road and extending it to Mississippi Highway 607 in Nicholson. “That will make us closer to Stennis than even Hancock County,” said County Administrator Adrian Lumpkin, Jr. pointing out that if the road was wider, improved, and extended to Miss. 607, the possibility of business flights coming into Picayune Airport relating to John C. Stennis Space Center was a good possibility. “We could see more of the less-security type traffic,” said Lumpkin, adding that more businesses might also relocate on the road.

Picayune Airport Committee member Mike Fitzwilliam pointed out that something needed to be done to Ridge Road one way or another. “That airport won’t help our area if that road is not improved,” said Fitzwilliam. “The attractiveness and utilitarian use of that road is pretty poor right now.”

A portion of Ridge Road was closed several years ago after a bridge which crosses a small creek deteriorated to the point it had to be shut down and dismantled. The county has looked at building another bridge for a number of years, but the funding has not been available. The former Board of Supervisors had acquired the funds to perform a feasibility study, but it wasn’t until recently that the almost entirely newly elected Board was able to move forward with the study.

County Engineer Les Dungan reminded board members that everything was still in the preliminary stages, but that the drawing had included every possible route the road improvements could take. “We don’t want to overlook any options at this point,” said Dungan.

“The big part is that we need the public input,” said Curt Craig, principal owner of Pickering, continuing that at next month’s public hearing, the brochure with the various route options would be available to the public. “Once we start getting comments back from the local people we will have a better idea of which option is best.”

According to the engineer rendering of the possible Ridge Road routes, there are two entry options from Mississippi Highway 43. One of those would be to use the existing Wal-Mart entrance, while the second, more favorable to board members, option is a little further south of Wal-Mart. “The challenge is the Wal-Mart entrance,” said Dungan.

Patrick Lee, District Four, agreed, adding, “We need to get away from that entrance or else we won’t get any public support.”

Craig said so far his firm had already been in discussions with the Crosby Arboretum concerning the widening of the road, noting that the Arboretum appeared to be leaning in favor of the improvements as long as the project did not take land from the west side of the road where the majority of its trails lie. “We have to minimize the impact to their property as much as possible,” said Lee. “We would stay as far east to the property as possible.”

Craig added that before even beginning the project, the county should obtain a letter of support from the Arboretum. “We need to get from them a letter of support,” said Craig.

Craig also said that there were still a number of other issues which would have to be addressed before the project even had a chance of beginning, including eminent domain rights, wetlands review, and cost.

In other business, the Board approved Danny Manley, Pearl River County’s Emergency Management director, to move forward with applying for a grant to teach local emergency and fire personnel how to train local citizens to be a part of a Community Emergency Response Team.

CERT members, once trained, are capable of responding to any disaster, such as a hurricane, train wreck, or chemical spill. “One of the biggest benefits is that we can teach these people basic emergency response skills,” said Manley. “We take them from part of the problem to part of the solution.”

Board members also approved refunding three years worth of taxes that a property owner paid for on property he did not own, as well as granting a 10 percent assessment for an elderly woman who mistakenly thought she did not have to file for the Homestead Exemption. According to County Assessor Gary Beech, the woman, who is now in her 80s, mistakenly thought she did not have to file for the exemption, believing because she was over 65, it was automatic. Beech said she learned of the back taxes when a notice was pinned to her door informing her that her home would be sold at public auction if the back taxes were not paid.

“Her paper mistake cost her three or four thousand,” said Beech. “Where she should have only paid four or five hundred.”

Beech told Board members that it was not possible for the County to reimburse her for her mistake, but that they could help her by granting her the 10 percent assessment for this year.

Hudson Holliday, District Three, added that with all the tax issues the assessment office is seeing since the state insisted an outside assessment firm handle making sure the assessments were correct following Hurricane Katrina, that property owners need to pay close attention when their tax bills arrive. “We are asking the people that when they get their tax bills, if something really looks wrong, they need to question it,” said Holliday.