County courthouse arguments continue
Published 7:00 am Friday, June 30, 2017
As it stands, the majority of the Pearl River County Supervisors have said they don’t feel comfortable spending $13.3 million to construct two county courthouse annexes to house all of the county’s various offices.
With only one option presented to the Board so far, many of the supervisors are calling for alternatives that could reduce the cost, while still fulfilling the needs of the county’s residents and employees.
“I want to see option B, all I’ve seen is option A,” Board President Sandy Kane Smith said in a phone interview Thursday.
This project has been proposed several times in the past, and Board Vice President Hudson Holliday said he’s voted for it during previous terms in office.
Smith said the issue has always been “all or nothing” but he would like to see the project scaled back to a more modest proposal.
“We haven’t had any options, I came on board 18 months ago and they dropped this in my lap and gave me no other choice,” District IV Supervisor Farron Moeller said.
Meanwhile, Pearl River County Chancery Clerk Melinda Bowman said logistically, it doesn’t make sense for her office to be separated from the tax office, nor for her office to use the newly renovated courtroom in the historic courthouse.
Because Chancery Court cases very rarely hold trials by jury, Bowman said using the old courtroom with its updated jury box and room would be a waste of taxpayer money, while a new Circuit Courtroom is built with those same amenities.
By constructing a single two-story building behind the existing courthouse to house the Chancery Clerk and the Tax Assessor/Collector’s offices, operations with related functions would be centralized at half the cost, she said.
With the county looking to borrow such a large sum of money, some supervisors have suggested putting the matter to a vote by the citizens.
“My heart is not set on borrowing that much money,” Smith said, who proposed putting two options on a ballot so voters could choose.
Meanwhile, others argue putting the matter to a vote would shirk their responsibilities as supervisors to assess and represent their constituents.
District II Supervisor Malcolm Perry said the county is already $300,000 over budget, despite an increase in tax revenue of $900,000.
“I feel like there is no possible way we can do it without eventually raising taxes,” he said.
County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin previously said a tax increase could be avoided based on growth projections, but Smith said construction shouldn’t be funded based on chance, calling the expenditure a “gamble.”
Holliday said the county needs to build something for the future. Looking at a temporary fix in just one building would lead to more expensive construction in the future as the county continues to grow, he said.
“I understand the arguments brought up yesterday, but they were brought up by those who don’t want to do it,” Holliday said.
District I Supervisor Donald Hart, who has remained mostly silent on the issue, said his focus is on facts and numbers and intends to gather all the information and assess any possible alternatives to what has already been proposed.
“I couldn’t say that I would vote for it right now,” Hart said.
If the county doesn’t have to spend $13 million, Moeller said it shouldn’t.
“It’s embarrassing for county leaders when people call and complain about stuff like that when we have it in our power to fix it,” he said.
Contrary to reported feedback from the community, Moeller said he hasn’t received much pushback on the cost of the project. Rather, he’s heard concerns that services in Picayune would be moved.
Moeller said there are no plans to take away those services in the south end of the county, but because Poplarville is the county seat, those needs should be addressed.
Under the proposed plan, the 15th District Attorney’s office would also move to a new annex with the Circuit Clerk’s office.
District Attorney Hal Kittrel said the move would certainly allow for growth, especially after he brought in an additional assistant DA this year.
Pearl River County Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes said she hasn’t seen the plans, but thinks that being housed alongside the county court, DA’s office and election offices would be ideal because of their interconnectedness.
Pearl River County Tax Assessor Gary Beech said he hasn’t studied the proposal, but ultimately due to the public’s daily interaction with the tax office, any new facility needs to have greater accessibility and parking.
Beech also said that due to the condition of the existing tax office, the county really needs to look at doing some construction in the future, whether that be on a short or long-term basis.
All of the supervisors encouraged community members to contact their representative and voice their concerns/opinions on the project. Contact information can be found at http://www.pearlrivercounty.net/bos/index.html.