City, county consider courtroom agreement

By Russell Hood The Webster Progress-Times

Eupora and Webster County officials are working to formalize an agreement for the county’s use of the municipal courtroom. Mayor Tommy Lott, at Monday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting, said the county has already been using the courtroom in the Community Center during the last two weeks, including that morning.

Chancellors of this chancery court district and the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court have designated that building, which is within the City Hall complex, as the official site for Webster County Chancery Court and Youth Court. They did so after the Jan. 17 fire at the Courthouse in Walthall. Eupora Municipal Court meets only on Tuesday afternoons.

Lott said the county wants to continue using the city courtroom for Chancery Court and Youth Court, along with the restrooms, adjacent kitchen, the aldermen’s boardroom and the Police Department’s witness room.

He presented an interlocal agreement for that purpose prepared by Buchanan Meek Jr., attorney for the county Board of Supervisors. It additionally designates the community house as an alternative site for Circuit Court.

The mayor said he had asked if the county had insurance to help the city offset some of its utility costs (electricity and gas), but that as of Monday, the county was not offering any compensation.

“I don’t want to charge the Webster County Board of Supervisors anything for using the Community Center, but if the insurance company has provisions to help us, then we should ask for it,” Lott said.

Dan Burchfield (at large) distributed copies of a revised interlocal agreement that he had prepared for use of the building for Webster County courts and departmental activities, except Tuesday afternoons.

As proposed, the agreement will continue until the courthouse is rebuilt or restored, or the community house is no longer needed by the county. The agreement states that there will be no charge to Webster County for the use of the aforementioned areas.

However, after a lengthy discussion and as recommended by board attorney Hugh Gibson Jr., the revised agreement was further amended to add, “In event funds are available from third parties other than Webster County, the parties herein shall request reasonable and/or per-diem payments for use of (the municipal courtroom).”

Burchfield and Billy Brister (Ward 2) were to meet with the Board of Supervisors about the agreement during a meeting of the county board this morning.

Development Talks Also Monday, Consultant Dianne Dyar of Madison gave a brief update about the onsite visits and interviews she has been conducting here regarding business development. The city has contracted with her to provide information to help it determine if a formal merchants’ organization such as a chamber of commerce is needed.

Dyar said volunteers are stepping up to help and that the city has identified “some real opportunities.”

“I’ve discovered you have a tremendous city pride,” she said. The city can develop opportunities with existing organizations such as churches and schools, said Dyar. She will continue to meet with the board monthly and present a written report at the end of her six- month contract.

Jeremy Murdock, project manager with the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State, met with the board. He is developing a conceptual site plan for the 11-acre city lot at Highway 9 and Government Avenue, former location of Garan.

He asked the mayor and board various questions about the city and the Highway 9 corridor to help him in preparing his plan.

Murdock said he will probably present his final findings next month.

Concerns Presented James Townsend, who said he was a spokesman for concerned citizens, addressed the board about economic improvements. “Eupora needs change,” he said. “There can be change if we all take an active role in making things better.”

Townsend touched on a number of issues, including potholes on Mt. Vernon Road, a leaking fire hydrant on Hill Street, other requested street improvements, condemnation and demolition of vacant/abandoned houses in Churchill, annexation and lack of youth-related businesses/ programs

His final question was, “What are you gonna do new in 2013?”

Lott and board members told Townsend that many of the things he brought up were either outside the scope of city ownership, too costly to remedy or were in the process of being addressed. They also noted that the reports given that night by Dyar and Murdock were applicable to many of his questions and concerns.

“I appreciate your interest and concern,” Lott said. “We are trying to do some things (Townsend addressed).”

Burchfield, responding to comments from Townsend about the lack of such businesses as a skating rink or movie theater, recommended that he try to find private investors who would pool their money for such an enterprise, and go through the Small Business Administration if needed.

“It takes money to develop,” said Burchfield. Ag Leases The board accepted a bid of from Don and Clint Mann Farms to lease undeveloped property in Industrial Park 3 for agricultural purposes, and to cut and haul hay from the cleared grassland adjoining and adjacent to the runway at the city airport.

The Manns are currently contracted to use the Industrial Park and airport land, but have not been paying the city to do so. Lott has said their work has saved the city money in labor and fuel by not mowing as well as wear on equipment.

Their total bid of $6,250 was the highest of four received Monday. The motion accepting the bid stipulates that $3,125 is payable when the contract is signed and the remaining balance is due by the end of October. Brister, who is Don Mann’s brother-in-law, abstained.

The Manns requested a lease with the city in 2011 to cultivate the land, and the board authorized the mayor and board attorney Hugh Gibson to negotiate a one-year contract with option for future use . The board voted that April to enter into a lease agreement with them.

Last month, the mayor said auditors had cited the city twice for not having advertised the properties for lease. “We should’ve advertised it but nobody recognized that we should have,” he told the board.

Other Business In other business Monday, the Board of Aldermen: • approved a motion to comply with all HOME requirements as presented by Spencer Broock of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District. Eupora been awarded a Homeowner Rehabilitation Grant from the Mississippi Development Authority to demolish and rebuild three substandard houses in the city. A second HOME public hearing was set for 10 a.m. March 5. • accepted donations of $800 from Terrence Lott, who had a fireworks stand on the Garan lot; and of $905 from Police Department calendar advertisement proceeds. • accepted a quote of $22 per light from Wayne Baker to replace all light fixtures in city buildings with energy-efficient lighting, which was the lower of two received. Newly appointed alderman Buster Duvall (Ward 3), who is Baker’s brother-in-law, abstained. The city is applying for a TVA matching grant for the purchase cost of the lights. • approved the transfer of a first responder ambulance to the Maben Fire Department for “good and valuable consideration.” Also, a Fire Department tanker truck titled to the Mississippi Forestry Commission will be taken to the Mathiston Fire Department. • gave final approval to the rezoning of Lot 18 in Westwood Subdivision from R-2 residential to C-1 commercial for the purpose of building a barbershop or salon. The rezoning was requested by Governor Mays, who last month brought in a signed petition from residents in the Westwood community agreeing with the rezoning request. • granted a variance at 79 N. Dunn St. for Henry Ross’ upstairs law office to be converted into an apartment. • tabled any action on an overrun of about $840 for basic engineering and contractor costs on the walkway connecting the BLY Fine Arts Center green space/throughpoint connection to Marie Lane and the new city parking lot. Aldermen directed the mayor to have John Freeman of Calvert-Spradling Engineers, who submitted a letter to the city about the cost overrun, appear before them to provide more information. Lott said he had been previously told that the walkway work would not cost the city anything. • to authorize the mayor to proceed with a pilot test of direct deposit for city employees and to check on the cost involved. Burchfield voted nay.

Other Reports Fire Chief Richard Love reported that fire departments in the county are preplanning on larger buildings, starting with Eupora First Baptist, because of the courthouse fire. He said fire chiefs would be familiarizing themselves with the church’s outlay through its floor plans.

Additionally, Love said he planned to meet with Starkville’s fire chief to prearrange use of its ladder truck if needed again. Park Director John Prather reported that Dizzy Dean state tournament bid day had been postponed until Feb. 16 in Greenwood. The board previously authorized him to bid up to spend up to a set amount to host some of the tournaments.

Lott announced that six people would be working with the city to conduct a Community Development Block Grant survey.

The claims docket of January bills was approved 4-1, with Burchfield voting nay.