Horses, homes, and seniors focus of county supervisors

Published 12:42 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors heard a number of concerns at Monday’s meeting from the senior center in need of money to a horse rescue organization’s use of the fairgrounds to affordable housing grants for low income residents, with most tied into the recession the country is facing.

Darlene Adam, executive director of the Pearl River County Senior Citizen Center asked board members to consider allocating more money to the center than in previous years. Noting that the center was receiving less now than in the past from the county, Adam pointed out that with rising costs and dwindling donations, the center would find continuing at its current activity level nearly impossible.

“Our membership has doubled since 2005 and it has gone up 35 percent since last year,” said Adam, adding that most of the increase in participation was due to the center’s “marketing effort to attract those 50 and over. … People are beginning to realize it is not a daycare but a very active center.”

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Pointing out although the center charges a $25 annual membership fee, Adam said that the center was fortunate to have donors who make membership possible for those who do not have the annual fee. “We have a $25 per year participant fee,” said Adam. “But we do not turn down anyone thanks to the donors we have.” She said raising the fee was not something the center wanted to do, especially in today’s economic times.

She said some programs the center was running would soon end because “the grants are coming to an end.” One of those, she said, was the water exercise program.

Adam said that the funds they received from the county were appreciated, but that more was needed. “In ’05 and ’06 we were getting $5,000 a year (from the county),” Adam said. “Then it decreased to $1,250 and this year it was $625.”

Board president Anthony Hales, while praising Adam for everything the center did for senior citizens, said he did not remember the board decreasing the center’s funds. With that he asked the county administrator’s office to look into the matter, at which time supervisor Patrick Lee was able to find out that while the center had been given less money, the figures Adam had quoted were not quite right. “It is $2,500 a year,” said Lee. “Six hundred and twenty five each quarter.”

Hales said he believed the county could do better than the $2,500 and raise it back to the original $5,000, adding that county administrator Adrian Lumpkin was in the process of weeding through the various organizations the county donates to in order to see if they are really giving back to the residents of the county. That way, if the organizations were not really benefiting county residents, said Hales, they could cut funding from them.

While admitting that she did not realize the fiscal year dates the county operated on, which caused the discrepancy in the amounts she said the center had received, Adam said that her purpose was still the same. “We are asking you consider (funding) the center more.”

“That I understand,” Hales said, noting that the board was in the initial phase of preparing the budget.

In other business, representatives from the Mississippi Equine Rescue Association asked the board that the use fee the not-for-profit organization pays to the county for putting on their fund raising horse shows at the fairgrounds, be returned.

Carol McIntosh, who attends most of the board meetings as an observer, said she had become involved with the horse rescue organization after the discussion of abused horses was raised at the last supervisor’s meeting. “(Supervisor) Hudson (Holliday) challenged me,” said McIntosh. “So I became involved with MERA.”

She said MERA not only educates the public about abused and abandoned horses, but also rescues them, and since the organization’s inception three years ago, members had rescued 15 equines, including horses, donkeys, and ponies.

To care for the rescued animals, McIntosh said, the organization has various fund raisers, including the four horse shows. “They use the arena, but they do not use electricity or charge a gate fee,” McIntosh said. “They have bake sales and a small flea market set up there and usually raise about $600.”

Of that, McIntosh said, $300 is paid to the county for the use of the show grounds. McIntosh said she was asking the county to refund the $900 already paid for the three shows already held.

Supervisor Charles Culpepper said that waiving the use fee for one organization sets the county up for others to also say, why not us too. “If we cut this fee, then everyone else will want us to cut fees,” said Culpepper.

Hales said he believes there might be something the county could do to help the organization. “They are trying to rescue these horses. Let us get together and see what we can do.”

Hales said that many people were finding it difficult to feed their horses in these tough economic times, to which McIntosh said some of the horses were “literally left on the side of the road. We’re the only group in the state who does this.”

Fred Griffin, Area 8 national vice president for the National Association of Home Builders gave a presentation of the 2009 Home Grant application he wanted the board to support. The board must agree to support the application for the grant money before Griffin can apply for it.

The grant Griffin is vying for is a home buyer’s assistance grant to help home buyers with the down payment and cost of the home.

In order to qualify, if the county is awarded the grant, residents must be a United States citizen, never have been convicted of a felony, and can not make more than 80 percent of the county’s median income. In addition, the person must agree to live in the house for 10 consecutive years, or repay the $28,050 grant. For a four person household, the median income in Pearl River County is $36,400.

It was that income that caused Hales to voice some concerns on whether people could actually qualify for the grant. “I have a problem, not with the grant itself but in qualifying people,” said Hales, noting that Poplarville had a development of 40 houses that are marketed as affordable rent-to-own. “They have income limits and the people who fall into the income limits don’t make enough to afford the house and the utility bills and the insurance,” he said. “So people move in and then move out because they can’t afford it.

“I mean, there are some seniors on social security bringing home $900 a month and they have a house payment of $500 a month, how can they afford it,” ales asked. “I see lots of affordable housing that is not affordable.”

The board still approved backing the grant, saying that if even a handful of people benefit from it, the program was worth the support.

The next board of supervisor’s meeting is at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 3, in the board room of the old courthouse on Julia Street, Poplarville.