Did the county come out ahead?

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors approved a bid from HH Contracting to demolish the Movie Star Building in Poplarville.

The County Engineer stated that there would be no cost to the county. Instead the county would receive $70,000 from the sale of surplus materials. Great job! Or is it?

Normally, demolishing an unused building and making a profit from it would be a good thing. However, in this case the BOS turned down an offer to buy the building for $500,000, according to a Hattiesburg businessman who wanted to purchase it about a year and a half ago. That solar panel business would also have brought dozens of jobs to Poplarville and generated tax revenue. But the board thought the building was worth $2 million, so no deal was made. Instead we will have a vacant lot and no jobs.

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Dozens of jobs would have meant better opportunities for current residents of the county or new people moving in to increase the tax base. However, that is currently the function of Butler Snow, based on the contract signed in the fall of 2012. That contract gives Butler Snow $150,000 per year, anticipated for 3 years, plus expenses, to bring jobs to the county. The few who knew about it, since it was discussed in executive session, not in the public board meeting, were opposed to it. Butler Snow has similar contracts with numerous counties throughout the state. What makes anyone think PRC would have the advantage? There was no performance guarantee in the contract. So Butler Snow gets $150,000 a year to try really hard. But if they don’t perform, they get paid anyway, and no contractual limit on the expenses means they can live large on our nickel. To digress about other Butler Snow contracts, they are listed in board minutes as being the “government relations legal counsel”, and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, have been paid $100,000 for lobbying for the county in 2013-2014. They must be really great. I can feel the difference they have made in our county.

The board is obviously impressed with Butler Snow. So much so, that they took their word that jobs would pour in without a contractual guarantee. Board President, Patrick Lee defensively stated, that if they did not bring in jobs, the board would not renew their contract. Yet their contract was renewed for the second year, and most probably will be renewed again this fall because those jobs are just around the corner. Mr. Lee gets calls from all over the world. A car plant is rumored. The same car plant that the governor wants to put in Hattiesburg.  Hattiesburg or Pearl River County? Somehow I just can’t picture a foreign firm putting a business here over other choices in the state. I hope I am wrong. I hope $300,000 worth that I am wrong. But there are a lot of people in this state with more influence and more money, wooing the exact same companies, and most through the same firm – Butler Snow.

So, the $500,000 bird in the hand was traded for a $70,000 vacant lot, and $300,000 in the coffers of Butler Snow. Such a deal for the people of PRC, because demolition of the Movie Star Plant brings in revenue.


By Donna Knezevich