Economic development council at a standstill

Published 7:00 am Friday, July 28, 2017

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors is at a standstill concerning plans to establish a non-profit county-wide economic development council.
After spending several months on the project as part of a $5,000 grant from a Mississippi Development Association program, the Board decided to halt work on the project.
“We have got everything on hold at the moment because… we’ve been getting a lot of advice that without some type of permanent funding for it, it’s going to be hard to get somebody to come commit to it,” District II Supervisor Malcolm Perry said.
Right now, the Board needs to verify the organization’s 501(c)6 status as a non-profit, Board President Sandy Kane Smith said. Until that is done, Board Attorney Joe Montgomery recommended putting off trustee appointments and other matters, Smith said.
Despite committing $150,000 annually to the effort, the Board is concerned whether those funds will continue to be distributed to the council in future Board terms.
The current administration is a little more than halfway through its four-year term, Perry said, making it impossible to commit the necessary funds three, five or 10 years down the road.
“Any decisions made today, three Board members or a new Board could change next week,” Perry said.
The city of Picayune also never committed funds to the project, which Perry said was not a deal breaker, but was a contributing factor to the decision to pause the project.
Smith said he wants to present official proposals to both municipalities to confirm or deny any contributions to the project.
“If we’re going to bring someone in, we need guarantee them some kind of attachment,” Smith said, referring to the hiring of an executive director.
Other counties have a one percent sales tax on hotels and prepared foods. The revenue of which is set aside for economic development purposes, Perry said.
A similar tax is charged within Picayune, but those funds are used to retire a bond for Friendship Park.
But the Board has expressed disagreement on that matter. Even if the members did agree, legislation would have to be passed at the state level.
Until a more permanent funding solution is found, “We’re in limbo,” Perry said.
The Board contracted with the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District to provide most of the legal work and establish bylaws for the council.
At the last Board meeting on July 19, the Board left the payment to SMPDD off the claims docket because it needed to discuss the project further.
Even with the project now at a standstill, Perry said the funds already spent would not go to waste.
“A lot of the stuff we’ve already done and paid for will be useful whenever,” he said. “If anything had to be redone, it would just be updated.’
County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said SMPDD representatives are scheduled to attend the next Board meeting on Aug. 7 to discuss the issue.
The county is still under an agreement with the organization to complete the work, Lumpkin said.
“We need to pursue this; I don’t want to let it die in vain,” Smith said.

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About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

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