Lowndes County supervisors will ask the Mississippi legislature to approve authorization for the county to give up to $350,000 annually to its municipalities for parks and recreation.
The board unanimously approved a resolution in support of the measure during a Monday morning meeting.
During Monday’s meeting, board president Harry Sanders suggested the county could allocate $250,000 to Columbus to help support the city’s recreation efforts, $50,000 to the Field of Dreams — a proposed special-needs accessible sports facility planned for Propst Park — and a combined $50,000 for recreation in Caledonia, Crawford and Artesia. The county could also choose not to appropriate the entire $350,000.
The decision follows a late January meeting between Columbus and county officials aimed at determining how best to move forward with an anticipated parks and recreation split. Supervisors previously voted to withdraw from the inter-local agreement between the city and county that governs the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority. That split, Sanders said in Monday’s meeting, will be effective Oct. 1.
According to Sanders, the county has proposed giving $250,000 annually to the city for recreation, while taking over operation of community centers that are in the county. He said the county would also provide maintenance for the soccer complex in downtown Columbus, which sits on county-owned land.
After the vote, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said the county needs to begin preparing for the split, in terms of potential hiring and operation of the county community centers.
“People ask the question, and I don’t know because we haven’t discussed it,” he said. “But I think we need to discuss the hiring. We’ve got people already working at the county and some of them are concerned about whether they’ll still be at their job, or what else we plan to do besides community centers.”
Sanders suggested the county will likely establish a recreation department to oversee county community centers.
“I think we need to have a department head of a recreation department, which would be under (County Administrator Ralph Billingsley),” Sanders said. “I think we just need to sit down and discuss it.”
Online tax sale
Supervisors also unanimously approved a three-year contract with GovEase to begin hosting the county’s annual tax sale online.
GovEase CEO and Co-Founder Trey Pittman, along with county Tax Assessor Greg Andrews, spoke to the board about transitioning the sale, which happens in August, to an online format.
GovEase would take 1.25 percent of the auction value as payment for hosting the tax sale.
“We’ve been doing tax sales for 29 years,” Andrews said. “Twenty-nine years ago, it was mostly local people at our counter — maybe five to seven, 10 local people. Now it’s gotten to be 240 buyers, and none of them are from Lowndes County, hardly. Ninety percent of them, according to Trey, were (from) outside Mississippi, statewide.”
Pittman said hosting the sale online makes it easier for anyone to participate. He said it also helped push up overbids on delinquent properties, which generates extra revenue for counties. For example, he said Lee County collected $292,000 in overbid revenue in 2015’s tax sale. When Lee County moved to an online tax sale in 2016, overbids grew to $442,000.
“It really creates the most competitive environments for these financial institutions, so the overbids rates and the yields that they’re willing to pay, they go up,” he said.
Pittman said about 30 Mississippi counties are expected to participate in the online tax sales this year.
In other business, supervisors agreed to allow Billingsley to move forward in obtaining surveillance cameras to monitor illegal garbage dumping along county roads.
Billingsley said the county could use grant money from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to purchase a set of cameras.
Sanders said he’d spoken with County Road Manager Ronnie Burns, who raised the illegal dumping issue last week during a board meeting, and Burns suggested getting five cameras — one for each district. Sanders also noted the county doesn’t have to use expensive cameras — he said the county could use game cameras, which run about $150 each.
Billingsley agreed the county doesn’t need to spend much on cameras.
“The gentleman (with MDEQ) that I was talking to recommended that we don’t go out and … ‘buy those Cadillacs,'” he said. “He said some counties have done that and they ended up being a waste of money. He recommended something adequate, but not spending thousands of dollars.”
Brooks, during discussion, asked if Billingsley could meet with Lowndes County Justice Court judges to make sure everyone was one the same page.
“We need to make sure that everyone’s got buy-in because the worst thing that could happen is we get somebody on camera, we do an investigation and nothing happens,” he said. “It undermines the program.”
Sheriff Mike Arledge and County Attorney Tim Hudson pointed out, though, that judges can’t commit to how they’ll prosecute particular cases.
As that discussion wore on, District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham said he felt too much emphasis was being put on prosecution.
“This is to put it out there and let people know we’re watching this, and maybe they’ll curb what they’re doing,” he said.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.