Lowndes County supervisors voted to pay half the cost of contracting out mowing along Highway 82 after an appeal from Columbus Mayor Keith Gaskin.
The catch is that the whole deal hinges on approval by Columbus City Council by June 16, when the pending low bid for the work expires.
Gaskin, during the supervisors’ Monday meeting, asked for help with maintaining rights-of-way owned by the Mississippi Department of Transportation on five interchanges along Highway 82, as well as the straightaway along Highway 45 North between Highway 82 and 18th Avenue North in front of the former Leigh Mall.
The city received a low bid in mid-March for about $75,000 from S&S Landscaping to do the work, but the council has failed to accept or reject it.
Gaskin told the supervisors he thought it was in the county’s interest to help.
“The aesthetics of the city are very important to the residents and to potential businesses,” Gaskin said. “When people come to the city, those are the first things they see.”
The city is struggling to maintain the rights-of-way and keep up with work in the wards due to staffing issues, Gaskin said. Public Works has about 48 employees and is budgeted for 65.
“In the past, half of our guys have been cutting grass in the summer,” Gaskin said. “That neglects the neighborhoods out in the community.”
Gaskin said he thinks the effort will get more support from the council if the county pitches in. He plans to bring the mowing up again at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The mowing issue has been rocky so far, with the council voting to table it at an April 18 meeting. After extremely contentious debate, the council deadlocked over the issue twice at a May 2 meeting, first on a motion to table and the second time on a motion to reject the bids. A motion to accept the bid failed, meaning no progress was made at all.
District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders suggested the city use some of its unspent payroll in Public Works to pay for the mowing, but Gaskin said that was a non-starter.
“In a perfect world we would do something like that, but we’re always trying to fill those positions,” Gaskin said. “The city also has a lot of other expenses that we’re trying to handle, too, in Public Works.”
Sanders said he thought the city should do it themselves, without any help from the county.
“There is no reason why we should come in and do this,” Sanders said. “We give them about $390,000 every year for roads and bridges (collected from county ad valorem taxes). You’ve got (payroll) you haven’t obligated. There is no reason you can’t take care of your own business.”
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith supported the city’s request.
“I represent the city and the county,” Smith said. “… Hopefully it will free up the city crews to work in the city. I live in the city, and there are some real (maintenance) needs in the city.”
President and District 2 Supervisor Trip Hairston moved to approve the city’s request, with a second by Smith. The county will pay about half of the cost for one year of mowing — the term was necessary because this is an election year and the current board may not oblige the incoming board.
The motion passed 4-1, with Sanders voting no. The money will only be paid if the city approves its half.
“It was the right thing to do,” Hairston said. “Through the summer and fall we have activities at the soccer complex and Mississippi State University football, and there are a lot of people whose heads are in our beds in our hotel rooms. It just needs to look good.”
Soccer complex named for Roger Short
The supervisors voted unanimously to name the Lowndes County Soccer Complex in honor of longtime recreation director Roger Short.
Short, 72, passed away suddenly in October. He worked for years with the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, eventually becoming executive director, a post he held for about 12 years. He retired in 2014.
After the CLRA was dissolved in 2017, he was named director for Lowndes County’s recreation department. He was still serving in that position when he passed away.
“His fingerprints are all over recreation in this community,” Hairston said. “He was a giant, and it was our honor today to rename the soccer complex. He put so much of his heart and soul into building that.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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