New management for Rural Events Center and new tax revenues also big topics for BOS
By RUSSELL TURNER
The State Line community got what many think will be a big shot in the arm on Monday with a commitment from the Greene County Board of Supervisors to help re-open a full-service Head Start center in the town.
Several members of the Friends of Children of Mississippi, Inc. (FCM) leadership team, including Deputy / Early Head Start Director Dr. Cathy Gaston, were on hand at the supervisors’ regular July meeting Monday morning in Leakesville and proposed a partnership with the county leaders to provide early childhood education and early childcare services in the county.
Gaston told board members that Greene County was one of FCM’s original four counties and that FCM had been operating in the county since 1967. FCM operated two centers in the county until 2017 when the center in State Line closed. Gaston said Monday the closure was because the “deplorable condition” of the modular units located on leased property presented a health hazard for students and employees. Attempts have since been made to operate a center in a different location in State Line, but those efforts have not been sustained.
Gaston proposed to supervisors that Greene County partner with FCM to construct an 8,000 square foot facility on the old school property in State Line. She said FCM would use the facility to provide services to 16 infants and toddlers as well as 37 three and four-year-olds, which are the numbers their current data says they could support in the community.
FCM Finance Director James Cropper projected the facility would have operating costs of around $532,000 in its first year in operation, with 60 percent of that number going toward salaries for teachers, teacher assistants and support personnel, such as custodians and drivers.
Cropper said FCM offers competitive salary and benefit packages and that the center would have a huge economic impact on the community.
Dist. Two Supervisor Morris Hill said he envisioned the county erecting the building and handling the plumbing and electrical installations, with FCM being responsible for the finishing work, fixtures and furnishings. He made a motion to begin the partnership with FCM for the endeavor and that motion passed on a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Once completed, FCM would lease the facility from the county on a long-term contract.
Supervisors had hoped to fund or partially fund the project by applying for funding through the Mississippi Development Authority’s Small Municipalities and Limited Population Counties grant program. In fact, they voted to do just that on Monday, but were later informed by staffers with the South Mississippi Planning and Development District (SMPDD) that the project was not the best fit for the grant effort and would not have a good chance of earning funding. They instead opted to apply for the $150,000 grant funding for upgrades to Dickerson Sawmill Road, which has major economic development implications because of Eubanks Farms and other ag-based industry accessed via the road.
Supervisors said that setback would not keep them from pursuing the Head Start partnership and vowed to find a way to fund the project.
Not the first choice …
The Dickerson Sawmill Road project was not the first choice for supervisors in relation to the potential grant funding. In fact, county leaders had asked SMPDD to submit proposals for renovations to the vacant factory building in Leakesville and for repairs and renovations to the county building that houses the MSU Extension Service.
However, during an impromptu meeting with an SMPDD official in late June, supervisor Wayne Barrow was informed that neither of those projects were expected to qualify for the grant funding. Barrow advised fellow supervisors of the conversation with SMPDD at a meeting the last week of June and said he had discussed the Dickerson Sawmill Road improvements with the agency and was told that project would be a better option. He added that he had asked the county engineer to put together a cost estimate for the road repairs.
Supervisors Morris Hill and G.L. Dearman both said they fully supported Eubanks Farms and appreciated the impact on the economy, but also felt that if grant money could be obtained it should be for a project that impacted more than just one area of the county.
Supervisors tabled the discussion at that meeting and asked SMPDD representative Emmalyn Jackson to be at last Monday’s meeting to discuss the grant opportunity.
Rural Events coordinator …
Supervisors also revisited another economic development idea from Barrow on Monday.
During last week’s meeting, the Dist. Four Supervisor had proposed the hiring of P&M Farm Supply owner Missy Lewis as a part-time coordinator for events at the Rural Events Center. Barrow has long acted as the contact person for the board on matters relating to the REC, but told his fellow board members he had come to the realization he did not have the time to adequately promote and oversee the facility. He proposed hiring Lewis under an arrangement similar to the one the county had with Lonnie Alton Roberts Sr. several years ago in which Roberts was paid $800 a month to manage the facility and its upkeep.
On Monday, Lewis told board members she felt the facility could be a much bigger asset to the community than it has been over the past several years.
“I feel like we can utilize it in many different ways,” Lewis said. “I think it would be a good thing and there are so many different things we could do to bring revenue back into the county.”
“It is going to take a while to grow it, I do know that, and to get people to start coming back. I ride (horses) all over the place and that is one of the finest facilities around. The ground (in the arena) is good, the facility is good, we just need to build it up and people will come.”
Lewis presented supervisors with a proposal to perform the following duties:
• facilitate the scheduling of events at the facility and market the facility for a wide range of events, focusing on agricultural, but also looking at dog shows, a county fair and other events
• use social media and local media to promote the REC and inform the public of events and policies
• work closely with 4-H officials to build up program participation and promote horse and livestock events where children can show and even sell their livestock
• make sure the arena is properly maintained and address repairs as needed
• report regularly to supervisors to discuss activities at the facility and plan marketing activities
Supervisor Hill said he would like to review the proposal and revisit it at the board’s next meeting. Meanwhile, supervisors asked Lewis to get with board attorney Roun McNeal to work out a more detailed proposal for county officials to consider.
More revenue, lower taxes?
The Greene County Board of Supervisors will have some additional money to operate county business next fiscal year. And, with that in mind, Greene County property owners could actually see a slight decrease in their ad valorem taxes when the new tax statements go out at the end of this year.
Greene County Tax Assessor told supervisors on Monday the assessed valuation for the county was expected to take a significant jump in 2019 after the expiration of several tax abatement agreements, including 10 year tax exemptions on certain property owned by Plains All American (Southern Pines Energy Center) and the Southeast Supply Header pipeline. With those agreements expiring, Holder told supervisors the total assessment value for the county would climb over $7-million to nearly $128-million.
Motor vehicle values in the county climbed roughly a half million dollars to $17.5-million for 2019, while mobile home values actually dropped slightly from an assessed value of $1.03-million in 2018 to $986,146 this year.
But, the big rise came from the real and personal property rolls, which would include homes and business property. The assessed values there climbed roughly $7.67-million.
The bottom line is that the value of a single tax mill is expected to be around $108,000, which is an increase of roughly $23,000 or 27 percent per mill. If the millage rate remains the same, that could mean as much as $2-million in new operating revenue for county government.
That does not included millage set aside for school operations.
Supervisors could opt to give taxpayers a break and cut millage rates or keep millage rates and use the new revenue to address major needs, such as infrastructure issues. Supervisor Hill, who is one of two supervisors not running for re-election, noted that this may be the year supervisors are able to lower taxes, but those discussions will become more active in the coming weeks as the board jumps headfirst into its budgeting process.
The most likely scenario is somewhere in between with county leaders passing along some savings to property owners, while keeping a good bit of the new revenue to bolster the budget.