Is the county getting their worth from Butler Snow?

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 1, 2015

The Board of Supervisors control the taxing and spending of the county. To that end, many unanswered questions remain concerning county spending. In particular, the three year Butler Snow contract that expires on Sept. 30 of this year. In October of 2012 the board hired Butler Snow to manage the county’s economic development efforts to attract industry and employment to the county. Additionally, the law firm would guide the creation and strategies for financing a countywide economic development association.
At the supervisors meeting, of March 18, the board greeted a new member of the Butler Snow economic development team. So, it’s possible that some board members and new candidates may consider renewing the contract that has been an expensive and abject failure.
Because of this possibility, it’s especially important that the total cost and expenses of the contract, including the cost of hiring an interim and long-term executive director, the costs associated with long-term financing of the new county wide economic development association and the total expense associated with the site readiness property must be made public before any renewal action is taken. This doesn’t include the extra hand-outs offered to industries, such as 10-year tax exemptions and others, that are unavailable to small individual owners.
Voters should oppose renewing the Butler Snow contract, the creation of an appointed county economic development authority that is unaccountable to the voters and a refusal to publish expenditures. We need less Butler Snow intrusion into county affairs, not more.
So the voters can clearly understand the candidates’ position on these 3 issues, it is imperative that all candidates answer 3 questions as yes or no, minus the usual “tap dancing” around the issue. (1) Should the contract be renewed? (2) Will you make all expenses of the current contract public? (3) Should the unaccountable PRC Economic Development Authority be created? Voters should insist on direct answers. In anticipation of the questions, candidates not familiar with the contract should educate themselves.
On Jan. 5, four of the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors authorized Butler Snow to draft a resolution seeking the state’s approval for a one percent county sales tax. No details of the resolution are available; however, this could be the funding for the county’s development authority and the renewed contract.
Important details of the contract: Butler Snow advisory services will be paid $150,000 per year for three years. In addition, more spending is required to pay an interim and executive director of an Economic Development Authority—where does this money come from? The Economic Development Authority will likely require additional personnel and office space, which entails additional funding. Where does this money come from?
Section 2(i) of the contract encumbers the county to pay for all
expenses incurred by Butler Snow with absolutely no limits. How did the board determine this to be a fiduciary responsible use of taxpayers’ monies? This allows Butler Snow advisory members to fly worldwide numerous times (first class, if desired), stay in the finest hotels, eat at the finest restaurants, use the best transportation to and from airport and hotels, innumerable phone calls, tips, etc. with no questions asked.
Additionally, the advisory will receive an administrative fee of 2.5 percent of the expense total, for what? There are no guarantees or measures of performance for handing over this amount of taxpayer monies.
Also, according to the board’s minutes for Dec. 12, 2012, the board authorized the county engineer to achieve site readiness of some unnamed property owner for the purpose of an economic development site, at an estimated cost of $214,000 dollars. If the county owns the property, what was the purchase cost? If not, whose property was enhanced with $214,000 of taxpayer money? Have any additional improvements been made? The county would have been better served had the $664,000, plus the unknown expenses, been set aside for the recently mandated courthouse repairs.

By Jeff Smith

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