Establishment discussions of economic development council resume

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Organizing members of the Pearl River County Economic Development Council met Tuesday to discuss moving forward with a project started two years ago.
Representatives at the meeting included Pearl River County Supervisors Donald Hart, Farron Moeller and Hudson Holliday; Board Attorney Joe Montgomery; Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Farr; Picayune Grant Manager Christy Goss, Pearl River Community College representative Brenda Wells and members of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District and the Mississippi Development Authority.
SMPDD Senior Project Manager Lindsay Ward drafted the organization’s bylaws, organizational description and the as yet published advertisement for an executive director.
Moving forward, Ward said the Board of Supervisors needs to approve the bylaws, finalize the promised $150,000 in funding and complete the 501(c)3 application.
With the potential of a Hyundai plant coming to Mississippi, the county needs someone in place who can quickly send an information packet about the benefits of operating a business in Pearl River County, said Board President Sandy Kane Smith, who joined the meeting by phone.
“We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done,” Farr said.
Attendees of the meeting discussed the necessary steps to fund the organization long term. As it stands, the county has committed $150,000 in funding and the city of Poplarville has tentatively budgeted $15,000 a year. The Picayune City Council has abstained from promising funding.
Many of the Economic Development Council members expressed a desire for Picayune to contribute in the future. Holliday said he hoped Picayune would contribute $50,000, at least for the first couple of years.
Goss said Picayune City Manager Jim Luke and Operations Director Harvey Miller are committed to the project, but the funding is a matter decided by the City Council and the mayor.
Through a public-private partnership, local agencies would only have to commit funds for a number of years before the revenue from the sales tax becomes steady enough to support the organization on its own.
Yet, Ward presented two draft budgets, one slightly more conservative than the other. Starting with a “modest” $70,000 salary for the executive director, the overall budget would be either $186,500 or $218,500 per year, according to the proposals, which don’t include the cost of leasing a building if the cities or county are unable to provide office space.
“We need to decide if we’re willing to get permanent funding through a sales tax,” Holliday said. “If we don’t, we won’t be successful.”
The group is considering requesting a one percent sales tax on prepared foods and lodging to provide that funding.
“It’s an extra penny on your biscuit,” Holliday said.
County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin estimated the tax would generate about $600,000 in revenue, Holliday said.
He added that because most Pearl River County residents don’t stay in county hotels, a portion of the revenue would not come from local residents.
“You pay twice as much in Slidell and don’t think twice about it,” Goss said.
To establish the additional sales tax, the county would need legislative approval, something many of the attendees said they wouldn’t get without the united support from all county leaders and constituents.
“We need to go on the assumption that we’re going to pass this legislation,” Holliday said.
The members also circled back to an issue discussed at last week’s Coffee with the Mayor, the portrayal of Pearl River County on social media.
Developers and industries read what is said about a town on social media pages and factor that in to their business decisions, MDA representative Ellen Bordeaux said.
The group plans to hold a public workshop between the county and municipalities to discuss the project and the proposed increase in sales tax. A date for the hearing will be announced soon.
The Board is set to vote on several of these matters at its regular meeting Aug. 23 at 9 a.m.

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About Julia Arenstam

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