By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – With government leaders from across the county in attendance, the Yalobusha County Economic Development Foundation (EDF) addressed two key concerns – both involving funding last Thursday.
The main purpose of the meeting was to determine the viability of funding and hiring an economic director for the county, but an underlying riff – basically a ‘whose-money-goes-where’ affair – helped steer the meeting.
The most important bridge crossed during the meeting, which was held at a church in Coffeeville, was a verbal commitment from Yalobusha County Supervisors to fund the position.
The two main personalities in the meeting, ironically, were Beat Three Supervisor Butch Surrette and Lee McMinn who is challenging Surrette in the August 7 Primary election. McMinn, who serves as president of the EDF, served as moderator for the meeting.
Other players included mayors from all three municipalities, assorted aldermen from Coffeeville and Oakland. With the exception of Beat Four Supervisor George Suggs, there was solid representation from county officials.
Notably absent from the meeting were Water Valley aldermen. Other attendees included EDF board members Pat Ray, Rex Howell, William Jeffreys, Taylor Trusty and other concerned citizens.
What Was Accomplished
“The leadership of Yalobusha County in one room together is an exciting opportunity,” McMinn said as the meeting started.
“We have got to have one go-to person in the county, or it is going to be very difficult to get anything done,” McMinn stressed.
And, after a back and forth dialogue about establishing a pro-rata share of financing from each municipality and the county coffers, a long-standing logjam may become unclogged.
Surrette offered his position, which was that he would be 100 percent for hiring a full-time director, and the county would foot the bill for the entire funding, even levying taxes, if necessary.
Beat One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn also agreed that the county could fund the position, but levying taxes would not be necessary to fund the position – instead money could be diverted from the general fund.
“We can’t sit here and say there will be money in October,” McMinn said referring to when the county’s new fiscal year begins.
“I will be willing to levy taxes,” Surrette answered.
“We can use the general fund, we don’t have to levy taxes,” Vaughn quickly answered.
Beat Five Supervisor Bubba Tillman also seemed favorable to county funding, as did Beat Two Supervisor Amos Sims.
Surrette did clarify his position at the conclusion of the meeting, which would be to fund the EDF based on what decision was made by EDF board members regarding the $70,000.
How The Decision Was Made
That informal position that the county would fund the program from supervisor came after bickering in the room regarding the $70,000 sitting in the EDF bank account.
“There is strong sentiment in Water Valley that the money in the EDF account came from Water Valley,” Surrette explained.
His suggestion was to use the money in Water Valley, either giving it to the city or using it to fund the Main Street Program. This, he explained, would start the EDF at the ground floor and each entity would contribute their “pro rata” share.
Surrette said that harmony was a vital part of a successful county-wide approach and if the EDF turned loose of their money, harmony would be created.
“Let me discuss harmony options,” McMinn said following Surrette’s comments.
“There is nothing more I would like to see than that money go to Main Street,” McMinn said before delving into various options.
One option, McMinn offered, was to take a portion of the money and hire a director and “get him to work for everybody.”
“We can start from scratch, and everybody is going to be happy,” Surrette said, continuing a push for the EDF to invest their money specifically into Water Valley or a Water Valley project.
“If we wait until we do our budget, it will take another six months,” Tillman said about county financing. Tillman suggested taking half of the money in the EDF account to hire a director and get the ball rolling.
“That is not going to create harmony,” Surrette answered.
Water Valley Mayor Bill Norris backed up Surrette, citing that there is strong feelings about the money in the EDF account.
As the discussion continued, Vaughn suggested that everyone should be pulling together instead of “sitting here and bickering among ourselves.”
“It has been that way for 20 years,” Trusty commented.
“I am 100 percent for county-wide economic development and 100 percent for hiring somebody to be our director,” Surrette said.
“That’s a positive in your favor for me, you have been against it in past years,” EDF board member Pat Ray told Surrette.
Surrette answered, telling Ray that he had always supported this move.
Ray responded, saying that Surrette had cut the EDF’s funding.
Surrette clarified that he had nothing to do with the EDF’s funding cut.
Background of EDF Funding
The funding cut referred to $500 monthly allocation EDF received from the Water Valley Chamber of Commerce. The county appropriates $12,000 annually to the Water Valley Chamber of Commerce, half of which formerly went to the EDF. This was stopped in 2004.
The EDF also received $1,160 monthly from the City of Water Valley, which was also cut in January 2004.
The rationale, at the time, was that Water Valley funds were being used outside the town by the EDF.
Surrette, who was familiar with the history of the EDF, explained that the organization was setup as a Water Valley organization. He said it was funded by the city. Supervisors also allocated $1,000 month to Water Valley and Coffeeville chambers.
Put To Rest
The funding issue was then put to rest after Surrette asked if anyone would be opposed to the county stepping up to the plate and saying we are going to fund economic development.
Without a negative response, the possibility of taking the step for county funding during the “first Monday” supervisor meeting in July may be a reality.
What Was Left On The Table
What remains to be determined is if the municipalities will contribute financially, who the EDF director will answer to, and how the EDF board will be structured.
A tentative meeting date was set for the second week of July to get the same players back at the table as work continues on this project.