Protest planned at Monday’s supervisors meeting

Published 3:52 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Events continue to percolate around the supervisors’ budget crisis.

Local political activist Donna Knezevich said she and others, whom she described as “concerned citizens,” planned to protest Monday morning at 8:30 in front of the Chancery Court Annex.

Supervisors meet at 9 a.m. Monday for their regular, first-of-the-month meeting.

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Knezevich said her group decided to take the protest option after the group’s request to be placed on the supervisors’ agenda for Monday was denied.

“We didn’t want on the agenda to criticize supervisors. We are not anti-supervisor. We have our ideas of what should be cut and what we as citizens are willing to do without, and all we wanted to do was present our ideas to supervisors in a respectful manner,” said Knezevich, who has been active in local politics for several years. She ran for the State House of Representatives last year and her husband, Joe, ran for supervisor. They regularly attend supervisors’ meetings.

Knezevich, who has been associated with the Tea Party movement and the Libertarian Party (she ran as a Libertarian for the House, challenging Rep. Herb Frierson), said her group is not associated with any party or group in this issue.

“In this case, we are just a group of concerned citizens who want our voices heard. We met on July 7 and went over the budget and identified places where we think cuts can be made and where supervisors are paying for services that we don’t need and don’t want,” she said. “Our suggestions, if adopted, could save the county millions of dollars.

“We are not just a bunch of wild-eyed protesters; we are concerned, educated citizens, who have studied local government and the budget and have something to contribute in this discussion, if we can ever get our voices respectfully heard,” she said.

“But we were denied access to the board. They would give us no explanation of why we weren’t placed on the agenda,” she said.

She said she had called board president J. Patrick Lee for a response as to why the group, which represented a cross-section of constituents from all five supervisor beats. She said the group had identified areas where up to $6 million could be cut from the budget. She said that might forestall a tax increase and allow supervisors to establish a “rainy day” fund.

Monday is building up to be an interesting meeting for supervisors as they approach the chore of hammering out the 2012-13 budget that could be $1 million short on tax revenue because of falling property values.

The board of supervisors was forced to make cuts to programs and place county employees on furlough in the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year to try to build up an ending 2012 cash balance that was fast dwindling. Budget woes became public in early June.

Also, officials with the South Mississippi Planning and Development District and the Senior Center in Picayune plan to be at the Monday meeting as supervisors plan to discuss recent cuts to SMPDD, Agency on Aging council and Senior Center budgets that has put in jeopardy a feeding program that services up to 40 senior citizens with free, hot meals Monday through Thursday at the Picayune Senior Center.

Aging council and SMPDD officials told supervisors in a July 24 letter that they planned to cut off the feeding project unless funding to the program was restored. They had scheduled to stop delivery of the meals today but delayed the termination until after the Monday supervisors’ meeting, when supervisors said they planned to discuss the matter and make a decision on the funding.

Supervisors are just coming off of a July 19 town hall meeting at the Link in Picayune where an estimated 200 citizens vented their frustration with taxes and the budget situation. That meeting was put on and sponsored by Joshua Dodd, who said he was just interested in local politics. He’s a student at Pearl River Community College and lives in Carriere.

Only two supervisors — J. Patrick Lee and Sandy Kane Smith, plus county administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr. — showed up for the town hall meeting. They said they had no choice but to cut programs to shore up a dwindling cash balance.

In addition, they said they were looking for additional areas to cut, and about 30 citizens, who spoke at an open “mike,” told supervisors to continue to cut and not raise taxes.