By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
County residents who are opposed to a $3.5 million bond issue for one of the county's proposed recreation projects have apparently acquired enough signatures to force an election on the matter.
Chancery Clerk Carolyn Mooney presented petitions bearing 2,374 signatures to the Board of Supervisors on Monday, the deadline for submitting petitions for the $3.5 million bond issue earmarked for the West Lauderdale Youth Association ball fields project. That's well over the 1,500 signatures required by state law to force a county-wide election on bond issues.
Each signature must be certified by the Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk's office to verify that each person who signed the petition is indeed a registered voter of Lauderdale County.
Mooney said she had counted the signatures Monday morning. Her office accepts the petitions and counts the signatures, then sends them to the Circuit Clerk for for certification.
It is expected that some of the signatures will be thrown out due to being illegible or if it is found that the signer is not a registered voter, but with a margin of more than 800 signatures, the likelihood is strong that it will stand.
The next step would be a county-wide election, but Josh Todd, District 3 supervisor, who has pushed for the project in his district, said he will move to cancel the bond issue rather than putting the additional expense on the county.
"I wouldn't do that. It would cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 and I'm not going to do that on the $3.5 million for the West Lauderdale project," Todd said. "If it comes out that they have over 1,500 valid signatures, then that's it. I'll drop it."
The West Lauderdale project was originally funded in what turned out to be a controversial $14 million bond issue that also included recreation projects in Clarkdale and Highland Park as well as money for improvements to the county courthouse.
That prompted a petition drive; the results of which are part of legal wrangling between the county and a group of bond issue objectors that has ended up in the state's Supreme Court. The case is expected to tie up the $14 million bond issue for six months to a year, which means the county cannot issue the bonds until it is resolved and then only if the court rules in the county's favor. Todd moved in October to separate the West Lauderdale project from the $14 million bond issue by passing a new bond issue just to fund West Lauderdale. However, objectors held a petition drive for that as well.
"I'm disappointed yes because the only thing this was going to do is let our kids start playing in the fall of next year. Is this a defeat? No," Todd said. "This isn't a defeat. We'll just go back to the original bond issue. The only thing is, it's tied up for six months to a year. I was just wanting the kids to get to playing by fall of next year and that's why this was done."
Todd has said he supports the project because the people of West Lauderdale worked for 12 years to raise $150,000 to build a youth sports complex. West Lauderdale Youth Association purchased land and deeded it to the county, which has pledged to build a sports complex on the land.
One of the objectors and organizers of the petition drive is Tommy Williams, who has spoken out about the bond issues. He said the opposition is not against recreational projects, but there are other needs in the county.
"Nobody is against recreation for kids. Nobody. That's another thing about it. Nobody had a problem with the idea of providing some sports recreation places for kids, whether it was West Lauderdale, Highland Park or Clarkdale," Williams said. "The idea was: It's like trying to buy a Cadillac when you're having trouble paying the rent. It doesn't make sense when you have other things you need to do."
Also on Monday, supervisors unanimously voted to pledge $2 million over an eight year period to the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, which will be built in downtown Meridian.
Tommy Dulaney, president of the board of directors; Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, thanked the board for their support.
"We think this is a great project for Meridian and it will help put us on the map," Dulaney said. "It will give us a world-class arts and entertainment center with all of the things to honor all the talent that has come from Mississippi."
Dulaney will ask the Meridian City Council for a $1 million pledge when the council meets this morning at 9.
Supervisors also unanimously approved a request by James McRae, president of the board of directors of the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum.
McRae asked if he and his son-in-law, contractor Tim Allred, could approach investors who might be interested in turning the Raymond P. Davis Annex building into a hotel, since the building once housed a hotel and is in an ideal location downtown. He asked for six months and the board approved his request.
He also suggested that the county jail be moved from downtown and a new one built elsewhere since, as he stated in a letter, "Visitors and prisoners do not mix."
Sheriff Billy Sollie said he has no problem with moving the jail from downtown, but it would be up to the board to find funding for a new jail.