By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – City funding has been restored to the Water Valley Main Street Association following a 4-1 vote at the Oct. 6 city board meeting. The vote followed input from Main Street Board member Joe York and Main Street Director Mickey Howley about the status of the program.
In September, aldermen voted unanimously to pause funding to the organization after Ward I Alderman Kagan Coughlin cited multiple compliance issues with the Mississippi Main Street Association. Coughlin also said he would like input at a city meeting from the Main Street board before funding resumed.
Meeting via Zoom, York provided an update at the city meeting, explaining the Main Street board has not met regularly during the pandemic. York also said activity has picked up in recent weeks.
“We were able to get together via Zoom,” York added about a recent meeting. “I want to thank Cinnamon (Foster) for helping Mickey and the Main Street board get everything back up to date with the state,” he added about the compliance issues cited by Coughlin.
“I would like to extend a word of thanks to Mickey, who has kept it together and worked as best he can while dealing with a really tough situation down in New Orleans. He has been traveling to and from on a weekly, sometimes bi-weekly basis to take care of his mother and father,” York added.
York also cited a new Main Street project to place picnic tables in the Pocket Park to help provide seating for customers who purchase meals at local restaurants as the organization was ready to get back to business.
Following York’s initial comments, Coughlin cited frustration with identifying current Main Street board members and officers to learn more about the compliance issues last month.
“This organization is very dependent on local participation and volunteers,” Coughlin continued, explaining that an engaged board is critical to the success of the Main Street organization.
“I feel like we, as a town, have funneled all of those responsibilities down to one person in Mickey Howley and it is not his responsibility. He is there to administer an organization that is supposed to be healthy and robust with citizen involvement,” Coughlin added.
York first responded to Coughlin’s concerns.
“I don’t disagree with any of your assessments,” York noted. “We do rely too heavily on Mickey to carry most of the water for that organization. We have not done a great job as a board, being as active and proactive as we need to be. We had a very long conversation about that in our meeting a couple of weeks ago. Which essentially came down to rededicating ourselves and rededicating the organization to promoting Main Street businesses.”
York also said the board understands Howley’s familial obligations during the last six months.
“He does have the support of our board,”York said, adding that both Howley and the board will have renewed dedication to Main Street.
Howley then provided an overview of the organization since it was founded 13 years ago. Starting with a question from Coughlin on the percentage of private funding versus city funding for the organization, Howley said the city has provided 50 to 75 percent of Water Valley’s Main Street annual budget, depending on the year.
“That is kind of standard for a public-private partnership,” Howley added about Main Street towns the size of Water Valley.
Howley also said the city’s annual allocation has not changed since 2007.
“We are running a very low-cost operation. I believe that in terms of city financing to what has been impacted on Main Street in terms of private investment, we have one of the highest returns on investment of any town in Mississippi. The City of Water Valley has spent $325,000 over 13 years with this Main Street program,” Howley continued. “Private investment to structures and buildings on Main Street is a little over $16 million at this point. I think that is a pretty high return on investment.”
Howley also acknowledged that Main Street boards in recent years have not been as active as in the past.
“We had a much more gung ho board in the beginning, but frankly there was a lot more to do,” Howley continued. “There were a lot more empty buildings.”
Howley added that the price of commercial real estate in Water Valley has tripled during the last 13 years. He also noted that many board members, who are volunteers, already have busy schedules.
Howley next apologized for the communication breakdown with the city during the last six months.
“I have three elderly parents, mother, father and step-mother, all in their late 80s. Two of them bed-bound, two had Covid. I had Covid, a number of my family members were hospitalized with Covid,” he said. “But I am back,” he added.
Ward Three Alderperson Cinnamon Foster then motioned to restore the funding.
“I think we are going in the right direction,” Foster said as she updated the board on Howley’s current projects. “In my opinion we are back on track where we need to be. Mickey is the best man for the job, he always has been,” she added as she shared his accomplishments while serving as director for over a decade and his Main Street connections across the state and country.
Coughlin cast the sole dissenting vote.
“I love the Main Street, but I would like to see that organization as a whole as opposed to two representatives who are overtaxed and speaking on behalf of a much larger group requesting this kind of support,” Coughlin said about the input in the meeting that came from York and Howley.
“I would prefer to wait until we have confidence that there is a group from our community that is going to support it. Our financial support won’t do anything if there aren’t people involved,” he added.