By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – Yalobusha County is a step closer to having a full-time economic development director.
Leadership from across the county reached a tentative agreement in Coffeeville last Thursday for the county to foot the position’s bill.
The meeting was hosted by board members of the Yalobusha County Economic Development Foundation (EDF), and included elected officials from both county seats and all three municipalities.
Phil Hardwick, a representative with the John C. Stennis Institute of Government, was on hand to offer insight into effective organizations he had worked with across the state.
“I do a lot of strategic planning with cities and counties,” Hardwick explained as the meeting began. He joined the Stennis Institute as program coordinator after retiring from the Mississippi Valley Gas Co. – leading that company’s economic and community development efforts.
“We need a direction where everybody pulls together,” Rex Howell said, adding that “we are fighting among ourselves,” as the forum started. Howell serves on the EDF board.
The meeting, moderated by EDF director Lee McMinn, defined the ‘how-tos’ and ‘what-ifs’ of funding scenarios.
The main question though was how to construct the economic development board. This included who would hire the director; who the director would report to; and if the effort was totally funded by the county, how could the cities be fairly represented.
The meeting was similar to a June gathering at which county supervisors verbally agreed to fund a director position.
“We will charge the board to see if funds are appropriated, and put out for resumes,” McMinn said.
County leaders appeared ready to take the next step as the boards’ president said the group was ready to move forward.
“We have looked at this from our last meeting. The board is pretty well ready to do what we need to do,” Board President Amos Sims said following McMinn’s comment.
“Money is of the essence for the county. If we are ever going to lower taxes, we got to have jobs and people,” Supervisor Tommy Vaughn said.
“If we don’t do this, we are doing the taxpayers a disfavor,” he added.
Hardwick explained that salaries for this position are “across the board,” but a range could be from $30,000 to $60,000.
Beat Three Supervisor Butch Surrette, who has been in favor of forming a board similar to the hospital board, reiterated his position that each supervisor would appoint representative. Surrette said at-large members could be appointed – one from each city. This would create eight board slots. A possible ninth appointee could be added to ensure an odd number of voting delegates, aimed at offsetting a potential tie vote.
Also touched at the meeting was the possibility of this nine-person board acting in the name of the Yalobusha County Economic Development Authority (EDA). The Authority, a legal entity separate from the EDF, allows for direct county funding.
The $69,000 White Elephant
While progress was made Thursday, one issue remaining on the table is the future of the approximate $69,000 currently sitting in an EDF bank account. This money, which has been a sore point for several years, undermines relations between Water Valley city officials and current EDF officials, and has threatened to derail the economic development process in Yalobusha.
That money originated partially from funding from City of Water Valley prior to 2004, and partially from the Chamber of Commerce prior to the same date. The chamber funding, which was $500 monthly, originated from a $1,000 monthly contribution from the county.
The riff began when city officials became concerned that the EDF was using funds intended strictly for Water Valley economic development outside the city.
EDF officials have provided a financial statement outlining how the money was spent. They have maintained that all but several thousand was spent in the Valley.
“The city of Water Valley was under the impression that the foundation was going to refund our money,” Water Valley Alderman Tommy Swearengen asked at the meeting.
“Who told you that?” Taylor Trusty asked.
“Lee (McMinn),” Swearengen answered.
Since the June EDF meeting, $15,000 of the money has been pledged to the Water Valley Main Street Association.
The 18-person EDF board will ultimately determine the future of the $69,000.