February 20, 2021 7:57:30 PM
Lowndes County supervisors approved an approximately $80,000 bid with local companies to complete the first phase of relocating the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse.
Supervisors voted 4-1 to pay Columbus Marble Works $47,815 to move the actual monument and Steens contracting company Danny's Custom Backhoe $31,886 to remove the monument's foundation. A new foundation will be built at the monument's new location in Friendship Cemetery. The city of Columbus deeded to the county a parcel of land from the cemetery so the county could relocate the monument near where Confederate soldiers are buried.
District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders was the only vote against approving the bid.
"I don't think we need to spend that much money on a monument that's been there 100 years," he said.
Erected in 1912, the monument honors soldiers who fought for the South during the Civil War and deems the war a "noble cause." Supervisors voted in July to move it to Friendship Cemetery following local protests for racial equality and calls for the monument to be moved off public property.
In the first phase of the project, crews will remove the monument, which sits on a foundation in front of the courthouse, and take it to a storage facility on Yorkville Road, County Engineer Bob Calvert and County Administrator Jay Fisher said. The second phase will involve building an entirely new foundation for the monument in Friendship Cemetery before relocating the statue.
Calvert recommended supervisors break the project into stages because crews will not know the cost of rebuilding the foundation and putting the monument back up until they have already taken it down.
"There are some unknowns as far as what the interior of the monument is," Calvert said. "To take the entire bid at this time, it'd be my feeling that we would run into a higher bid because there'd be some unknowns (in the second phase), and whoever bid on it would have to cover that. Doing it in two different stages, we know what we're doing tearing it down, and then when we put it back up, the second quote would be defined. ... That's my recommendation as to the best way to handle it."
Prior to Friday's vote, Sanders asked if it was possible for the county to receive a grant or ask the city of Columbus for help funding the project. Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said in June he supported the city helping move the monument and splitting the cost with the county, though the issue has not gone before the city council. Some private groups have also expressed interest in helping with the project.
"It looks to me like we're going to spend about $80,000 taking it down, restoring it, repairing the foundation," Sanders said. "We've spent $12(000). We'll probably spend another $70 or $80,000 putting it back up. Is there any way that we could get (Mississippi Department of Archives and History) or anything like that (to help pay for the project)? We don't have just $200,000 in our budget to move a monument."
Fisher and Board President Trip Hairston said the budget does allocate about $150,000 specifically for moving the monument.
"We just took a stab at it based on Bob's estimations, so it was in the budget," Fisher said. "Now whether or not we'll bust the budget number or not, I don't know."
He said the county could look into finding other ways to help pay for the monument's relocation in case the county exceeds the amount it budgeted.
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith said while he supports the idea of looking at other funding options, supervisors shouldn't delay the project with the hope of finding grants or extra funding, especially given that other counties and municipalities around the state are undertaking similar projects to move their Confederate statues and monuments.
"There is money set aside in the budget," he said. "There may be a bit of overage -- hopefully not, but if there is, we'll just deal with it.
"The sooner we get past this, the better off we are," he added.
Calvert did not give a timeline, saying crews would have to wait for drier and probably warmer weather to take the monument down.
In other business, supervisors voted unanimously to declare a local emergency in Lowndes County, due to winter storms that brought freezing temperatures and icy roads to the county from Sunday night through Thursday morning. The declaration allows Lowndes County to potentially receive federal funding if President Joe Biden declares the county a disaster area.
Supervisors will discuss funding options to repair damage the storm may have caused to the roads, as well as to fund other road repairs and other projects, at their next regular meeting.
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