Main Street Hinges On City Funding
By William Browning
WATER VALLEY, Miss. – If you include three members of the media and an infant, 44 people crammed into City Hall last Tuesday evening to attend the last Board of Aldermen meeting (June 5).
The majority of them were there to show support for the Main Street Association (MSA) in its request to the city for $23,000 to $25,000. The request of money – which according to MSA Treasurer Kagan Coughlin would be used to create a full-time position for the thus-far volunteer run group – was tabled by the board.
The board has planned a special meeting – scheduled for June 19 – to address the measure.
After several members of the MSA initially addressed the board with their hopes for the Main Street program, Mayor Bill Norris asked the group for its bottom line.
“Let’s get to the money part,” the mayor said.
“Unless we get financial support from the city, we probably won’t get inducted into the program this year,” said Lee McMinn.
Coughlin told the board that the MSA will have a working budget of $42,000 to $45,000, and that the group was “looking for about 50 percent of its operational budget” to come from the city.
Mayor Norris said that the city’s year ends in September and that the next year’s budget will begin in October.
“So the budget is frozen until September?” asked Coughlin.
“Yes,” Norris said.
“Well, what we need is a commitment from the city,” Coughlin responded, adding that the city could approve the money for the first year, and then review the MSA’s efforts before continuing its funding.
On the way to the request being tabled, Alderman Tommy Swearengen offered his feelings.
“Now is the best time to do it,” said Swearengen. “If (the MSA) is going to succeed, now is the best time.”
McMinn said that the MSA’s induction ceremony had been originally been scheduled for July.
“But that’s been put on hold until we get commitment from the city,” said McMinn, adding that municipal financial support is a requirement for officially joining the Mississippi Main Street Association.
MSA President Jessie Gurner told the board that Main Street programs are “usually supported by city or county governments in form or another.”
Alderman Johnson said that she feels like the MSA “is a good thing,” but ultimately wanted to table the request until the June 19 meeting.
Other business at the regularly scheduled meeting included:
• The board heard from Mayor Norris about the possibility of constructing the town a skate park.
“We’ve talked about skateboards before,” the mayor said. “This would be something for next year…it would be hard to get it in our budget this year.”
Norris went on to say that he had talked to several different “ramp agencies.” He quoted potential prices ranging from $25,000 to $44,000, adding that the skate park is just something to “think” about.
“Well, while we’re ‘thinking,’ we need to think about where this money is going to come from,” said Alderman Fred White.
“This is for next year,” said Norris.
“Well, we’re going to need money next year, too,” said White.
• The board took in a presentation from Sheriff Lance Humprheys and Deputy Eddie Foster concerning a new county-wide Crime Stoppers program.
The county law enforcement officers asked the city to tack on an additional $2 to traffic tickets and fines issued inside the city limits. The request intially passed with a vote of 3-2. The board, however, after exiting executive session reversed their earlier decision. Board attorney David Burns said the city would need to pass an ordinance before the fee program goes into effect.
The money will go toward funding Yalobusha County Crime Stoppers. (County government passed the same proposal “in about 30 seconds,” Foster told the board.)
After Humphreys and Foster’s presentation, Alderman Charlie Harris made a motion to pass the proposal.
With Police Chief Mike King absent from the meeting, Alderman Lance Clement made a motion – before Harris’ motion could be voted on – to have the issue tabled.
“The decision rests with (the Board of Aldermen),” said Foster. “It has nothing to do with law enforcement.”
“I’d like to talk to Chief King about this,” said Clement, saying later that he is “not voting against Crime Stoppers,” but simply believes that the Chief of Police should have had a chance to weigh in. Aldermen White agreed with Clement.
“Well, let’s get (Harris’ motion) voted on first,” said Mayor Norris.
At that point, Aldermen Harris, Swearengen and Johnson voted in favor of the proposal.
The matter was originally slated to be taken up by aldermen in executive session. However, prior to the meeting, Sheriff Humphreys questioned the legality of that happening. The matter then played out during the public meeting.
• The board declared a 1974 model Mack Fire Truck surplus.
• The board approved an invoice – for $224 – from Willis Engineering for work done at the airport. A grant pays for the invoice.
• The board paid City Attorney David Burns $1,550 for work done during the month of May.
• The board heard from Water Department head Morris Surrette in regards to a need to replace a 1976 Ford Tractor and mower.
Surrette asked that the city consider purchasing a new tractor and mower, instead of repairing the current one. The new purchase would cost $75,578.44.
“I really don’t feel like (the current tractor) is worth putting that much money into,” said Surrette.
“Will the budget stand it?” asked Alderman Harris.
“With all we been through, I doubt it,” Alderman White replied, adding, that “a $75,000 whop is a pretty big hit on the budget.”
The matter was taken under advisement – and scheduled to be taken back up at the June 19 meeting -after members of the board asked Surrette to explore cheaper options.
• The board applied for a $150,000 community improvement grant available from the Mississippi Development Association.
• After hearing from MSA member Justin McGuirk, the board tabled his request for a farmers’ market to be set up alongside Railroad Park.
Though receptive, the board decided to look into the possibility of an existing ordinance that would hinder the project.
McGuirk, who has been working with County Extension Service Agent Steve Cummings on the project, said that the market would operate on Saturday mornings, from roughly 8 a.m. until noon, and offer Yalobusha farmers a place to sell produce.
McGuirk said that he hopes to see the project begin July 7.
• The board tabled a proposal to raise garbage pickup rates to $12. Reasons for the raise include the rising costs of fuel. The rate sits now at $9.
The matter will be taken back up at the June 19 meeting.
• Bruce Watson’s request to have the city declare an alley that meets his property as surplus was taken under advisement.
Watson wishes to purchase the alley, which is on North Court and Bergland, so to build a carport and/or fence.
“There are no water or sewer lines that I know of,” said Watson of the alley.
“What we’re concerned about is how we’re going to get in there to have access to that area,” said Water Department head Surrette. “We have a lot of hard problems getting into that area.”
• The board, still trying to address the issue of the Planning Commission’s zoning ordinance 102.12, asked the commission’s chairman, Jack Gurner, to help define “carport.”
The ordinance has to do with the storage of campers and mobile homes on residents’ property.
“Let’s define what the ordinance is and enforce it, said Code Enforcement Office Morris Surrette. “ Or, change it to something we can enforce.”
During the discussion, Alderman Harris said that he feels like the ordinance is a “hardship” on citizens who own recreational vehicles.
“Personally, I don’t like the ordinance,” said Harris.
“I said the same thing that (Alderman Harris) is saying six months ago,” added Alderman White. “We need to tend to our own business.”
While the board and its attorney discussed the matter – debating whether it was a safety or aesthetic issue – Planning Commission Gurner told them the matter was simply a matter of “economic development.”
“All of the things that are going to happen over the next few months have to do with (economic development),” said Gurner of the Planning Commission’s efforts.
The board ultimately asked Gurner to contact Corbett Jones – the man who drew up the ordinance – in hopes that he can clarify the situation. But Alderman White said that he thinks the matter “is a city problem; not a Jack Gurner problem.”
“We need to iron it out here,” said White.
The board decided to let Gurner contact Jones, and the matter will be addressed at the June 19 meeting.
• Before the board slipped into an executive session, Alderman White addressed the board.
“Can anybody remember the money we put into an economic development fund?” White asked his fellow alderman. “What I’m hearing is some other people are trying to get their hands on that money and spend it in the county.”
White went on to say that the approximate $75,000 he was referencing belongs to Water Valley.
“That’s city taxpayers’ money, that is not county money,” White added.
White told Mayor Norris he needed to “make sure” the money was used appropriately.
“I’d vote on that,” Alderman Swearengen said in closing.