By William Browning
WATER VALLEY, Miss. – At the recessed Board of Aldermen meeting last Tuesday (June 19), members of the Water Valley Main Street Association (MSA) stood before the aldermen, asking the city for financial support – a requirement if the group is to be inducted into the Mississippi Main Street Association.
“We’re asking the city to consider a request from (the MSA) for $25,000 in funding…we’re asking the city to put it into the 2008 budget,” said Lee McMinn who, along with Jessie Gurner, acted as the MSA’s spokesperson during the meeting.
“If we don’t get that, then we’re dead in the water.” said McMinn.
After City Attorney David Burns raised some legal “concerns” – namely, two statutes that could require the MSA “to be under the control of the city” – the board gave a verbal commitment to the association.
But the promise has stipulations. Attorney Burns will ask for an Attorney General’s opinion concerning the legalities of the city’s funding. (“That response could take anywhere between 20 to 30 days,” said Burns.) The MSA must appoint two aldermen to its board. And the MSA must present an annual audit report to the board of aldermen.
Alderman Fred White voted against the request, with Aldermen Lance Clement, Sherry Martin and Tommy Swearengen in favor of it. (Alderman Charlie Harris was absent from the meeting.)
During the board’s MSA discussion, Alderman Swearengen offered a creative way to “bypass” the debate over funding.
“We could bypass all of this if we could take the money (Alderman White) was talking about,” Swearengen said, referencing a comment White made at a previous aldermen meeting in regards to $69,000 the Yalobusha Economic Development Foundation currently holds. That money came from the city of Water Valley and Chamber of Commerce.
“Why can’t we go on and use (that $69,000) since the city is strapped?” asked Swearengen.
“Since you brought it up, I’d like to address (that money) tonight,” said McMinn, who is the president of the Yalobusha Economic Development Foundation.
“There is $69,000 and change in the current EDF fund. That money came from the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Water Valley.” (The money accumulated, a few years ago, as the city gave $1,160 a month. The chamber gave $500 a month, half of a monthly $1,000 allocation from the county. The city and chamber’s funding ceased in January 2004.) “That money is still there,” he added.
McMinn said that local accountant Joe Black had done an audit on the money.
“And every dime that was spent was spent within the city limits of Water Valley,” he said, before mapping out the spending.
Quoting figures from the 2005 compilation by Black, McMinn noted that $2,046 of that money had been spent in 2003 to secure land for the beef plant. That represents the only part spent outside of Water Valley’s city limits. He commented that the city could invoice Yalobusha county for that money, if it so chooses.
A $7,200 contribution was made to Cayce Washington in 2005 when Washington relocated part of his Valley Tools, Inc. to the old Big Yank building.
The EDF also spent $19,539 – its chief expenditure – towards purchasing the old school property in 2004 and giving it to the city, said McMinn.
“Some of it was given to (then mayor) Larry Hart when he was trying to get a chicken plant opened,” said McMinn, before adding, “I don’t know what happened with that ($5,013).”
McMinn said that the EDF had recently assured the MSA $15,000 in funding.
As far as the “bickering” is concerned, remarked McMinn, “the whole concept of the EDF is not being followed.
“In my opinion we’ve been very good stewards of that money,” McMinn added.
“No one is questioning how you’ve spent it, it’s how you’re going to spend the rest of the money,” said Alderman Swearengen.
“Your organization is not part of the Chamber of Commerce,” Swearengen continued. “That’s the problem I have right there. Why don’t you go back to the Chamber of Commerce? Why do you want to be independent of the Chamber? Now you’re an independent.”
“We are working for a countywide effort,” said McMinn.
“We’re not against your ‘countywide effort,’ we want to know about that $69,000,” responded Swearengen.
“Well, I’ll say it for a third time. That money is going to be spent in Water Valley, Mississippi,” McMinn said. “But the city needs to step up and do their part.”
“We had economic development through the Chamber of Commerce and you took our money,” said Swearengen.
“How can you say that money was taken?” asked McMinn.
After this discussion of the EDF and its money continued – diverting its way into Sandra Johnson asking the EDF for startup money, then Bobby Tyler asking McMinn if any minorities sit on the EDF’s board – Mayor Bill Norris steered the discussion back towards its roots in the MSA discussion.
“I believe (the MSA) is asking the city for $25,000,” the mayor said.
Roughly five minutes later, the board gave its verbal commitment of funding to the MSA.
See the print version of the next North Mississippi Herald to see what other business was conducted at the June 19 recessed meeting of the Water Valley Board of Aldermen meeting.