June 03--MERIDIAN -- In a split vote on Monday, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors decided to take the next step in getting the remaining portion of $14 million in bonds for recreation projects and courthouse renovations.
The remaining portion of the bond issue is for $10.8 million.
As with previous votes on the bond issue which stirred a public debate, those in favor were: District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey, District 3 Supervisor Josh Todd, and District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood.
Those opposed were District 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell and District 5 Supervisor Kyle Rutledge.
On April 1, 2013, the board voted to pass the $14 million bond issue. A petition drive from those who wanted to put it to a county-wide vote failed when petitioners did not get enough valid signatures in the time allowed.
The board voted in August, 2013 to issue $3.2 million of the total $14 million, but some citizens challenged the bond validation process in chancery court. The court found in favor of the county, but the objectors appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court where the case is pending.
The bond issue proposes to spend $3.8 million to build a 32,000 square foot sports complex that will house a four-court gymnasium with bleachers at Highland Park.
Also, $3.5 million of the bonds will go to the county-owned fields of the West Lauderdale Youth Association; $2.5 million will go to the county-owned Clarkdale Community Recreation Association park construction, and the remainder, $4.2 million, will go to fund a partial renovation of the courthouse.
Todd, the board president, said his constituents have encouraged him to continue supporting the bond issue.
"They say 'don't back down,'" Todd said. "My people are telling me to keep up the good work. They say 'just stay strong and keep moving forward.'"
The West Lauderdale Youth Association is in his district, which Todd said was made possible when residents there sold chicken plates for 12 years to raise money to purchase the land. They then deeded the land to the county to build a ballpark.
County officials cannot sell the bonds until the case is resolved, but they can position the county to be ready with the second phase of the bond issue, which will have to go through the same validation process as the first.
That's according to Sam Keyes, bond counsel for Butler Snow law firm, which handles the county's bond issues.
Keyes said interest rates have dropped since a year ago, so the county can posture itself to be ready to take advantage of lower rates when the bond issue validation question is settled in the state's high court -- if the court rules in favor of the county.
Demery Grubbs, bond consultant, said Monday's vote wouldn't be a final vote on issuing the bonds, but would simply lay the ground work. He said based on the current market, the board could expect about $120,000 a year in interest savings, as opposed to what it would have been if the bonds had been sold a year ago.
"That's no guarantee that in two months, three months, the market's going to be there," Grubbs said. "But if it is, and the board elects to proceed at that time, this puts you in a position to pursue it."
Later in the meeting, the Rev. Gary Houston thanked the board for its support of area youth.
"As we look at so many our our young folks, 85 percent who are trying to do their best are being influenced by the 15 percent who really don't care," Houston said. "Where ever we are in life, regardless of our status, our position, the question remains: We all need help."
Before the bond issue went to a vote on Monday, Newell proposed that the board vote to put the bond issue on the November general election ballot and let the voters decide.
"We as the board of supervisors have the opportunity to stop all the wasteful spending on this $14 million bond by putting it onto the November ballot," Newell said. "Let the people of Lauderdale County make a choice by voting yes or no. It will cost nothing for the people and the county to vote on the bond issue."
Rutledge seconded the motion, but it failed to pass, with the board voting 3-2.
Stephen Wilson, who is representing clients opposed to the bond issue, said this isn't likely to affect the current case pending in court, but his clients will probably object to the $10.8 million bond issue as well. Wilson said the board should put it to a county-wide vote.
"I was shocked and surprised that three supervisors went on record as being willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to avoid an election when they could have a decision in November rather than much later from the Supreme Court," Wilson said.
Wilson said there will probably be a petition drive to force a vote on issuing a the next set of bonds..
Lee Thaggard, board attorney, said the time has passed for those who want to petition the board for an election about the $14 million bond issue.
"They certainly are free to file an objection when this one goes to the bond validation in chancery court just as they did last time," Thaggard said.
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