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Details remain to be worked out on both projects, but BOS ready to move forward
BY RUSSELL TURNER
The Greene County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to move forward on plans to construct a new 911 Command Center and a new Head Start facility in State Line.
The Head Start project has been in the works since July when board members voted to erect an 8,000 square-foot metal building on old school property in State Line, complete with plumbing and electrical installations, with Friends of Children of Mississippi, Inc. (FCM) being responsible for the finishing work, fixtures and furnishings. Work on the building’s foundation began in July even though bids had not been sought on the metal building that would be erected and county leaders had not yet determined how they will fund the project.
Claims of roughly $48,000 were paid out of Dist. Two road funds in August to Herring Construction, of Petal, and Lankford Farm Dirt Pit, in State Line. Dist. Two Supervisor Morris Hill told fellow board members that he would cover those costs (up to $50,000) out of his road district funds, but that a plan needs to come together quickly for the remainder of the project.
A question of the legality of that move arose prompting supervisors to vote to transfer the funds back to Dist. 2 and to continue to move forward with the planned building. However, at that time, they instructed board attorney Roun McNeal to research the legal questions and come back to the board with options.
McNeal asked for an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office regarding three separate options the county was considering for the project. In the opinion, Special Assistant Attorney General Avery Mounger Lee advised the board could not fund the project with money from the county’s General Fund as an ‘industrial or commercial project’ covered under Section 57-7-1 of the Mississippi Code. However, Lee wrote that either of the other two options, which lean on the board making a factual finding that FCM provides educational/literacy value to the community, would give board members the grounds to use General Fund monies to pay for the project.
“I don’t think since I came to this table in January of 1996 that I have seen things become racial,” Hill said Monday. “I think we have always tried to work things out beyond that.”
“I don’t want to leave (office) feeling that way, but every time something comes up to this board concerning State Line it thinks it is about black people all the time. I get damned tired of that. It isn’t just about black people, this is about children all over this county.
Hill claimed numerous other projects, including ones such as the tuition assistance program and two building projects at the Jones College campus on Vo-Tech Road, were not scrutinized in the same manner that the Head Start project, and other projects related to his area, have been.
“You make us walk through fire,” Hill added. “We can build everything else in this county and help every kind of (project), but when it comes to State Line, everything has to be just right. Every time it comes to State Line about education then everything suddenly has to be 100 percent right. I’ve been here 24 years and it ain’t 100 percent right nowhere else.”
“I think you know this board has never seen color as an issue in all the years I’ve been here,” Dist. 1 Supervisor G.L. Dearman told Hill. “I think you are preaching to the choir. You need to be preaching to the Greene County School Board, instead of us.”
“I think our issue here today is, we’ve got to know we are on legal, solid ground.”
Hill countered by saying the attorney general’s opinion should clear up those concerns.
Dist. 3 Supervisor Jerry Mills agreed and said his vote would be to move forward with the project.
“I say we push forward with this and not just for the sake of State Line,” Mills said. “This is a Greene County project and it is much needed across the whole county.”
“I’ve got people in my district, even though we have a Head Start there, that are interested because this will meet the needs of the younger kids. The mothers that need this service aren’t just in State Line and this is a good investment.”
In the end, Hill made a motion to make the finding of fact that the project will provide educational/literacy services and to authorize up to $250,000 to get the building erected and ready to turn over to FCM. Mills seconded the motion and it passed by a 5-0 margin.
Hill promised fellow board members he would work with FCM to get a Memorandum of Understanding completed in short order laying out some of the details of the project and the relationship moving forward between the Greene County Board of Supervisors and FCM.
According to previous discussions on the matter, FCM plans to invest $350,000-$400,000 to finish the building and get it ready to serve students. The finished facility will remain the property of Greene County and FCM will lease it on a long-term contract.
FCM anticipates 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.
No timeline was discussed for completion of the building or opening of the child care facility.
Supervisors looking to construct new 911 facility in industrial park
Supervisors also voted Monday to move forward with planning for a new E-911 center on county-owned property across the highway from South Mississippi Correctional Institution.
Vince West, who manages the county’s prisoner work crew, showed supervisors architectural renderings of a similar facility recently built in Noxubee County and advised supervisors he believed the building could be built for approximately $126,200 using his crew. The proposed 3,000 square-foot facility would be built on a 7-acre site on the edge of the industrial park just off Miss. 63. It would house the county’s 911 call center and emergency dispatchers as well as the administrative offices for the 911 system and the county’s Emergency Management Agency.
The current 911 system is currently housed in a small room at the Greene County Jail and officials say the new facility is needed because that setup is inadequate. Greene County Emergency Management Director Trent Robertson says the 911 call system is outdated as well and needs to be replaced with a more dependable system.
Supervisor Hill said supervisors needed to refine the process and put as much thought and detail in it as possible to make sure the facility meets the current and future needs of the county and that there is a better picture of the full cost of constructing and equipping it.
Robertson said he felt the 7-acre site and proposed building would meet the county’s needs, but said the building is just a small part of the total cost for the plan.
“I would like to reiterate that (the $126,200 estimate provided by West) is strictly the cost of the building,” Robertson said. “The majority of the expense will be the equipment. That is expensive, specialized equipment.”
Robertson said the county could purchase “next generation, state of the art, 911 equipment” for $400-500,000. Dearman added that the county was going to be looking at replacing the equipment and spending that amount of money, whether a new building is constructed or not.
“In my opinion the board needs to look at the total project and consider all the aspects of getting that facility up and running as a state of the art 911 command center,” Hill added. “If not, we are wasting time.”
Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward with the planning of the project and gave West and Robertson authority to get quotes and bids for a more concrete cost estimate for the project.