By CARL SMITH
and STEVEN NALLEY
Potential county lake lease suitors will have until next month to present bids to the Oktibbeha County School Board.
The school board voted Monday to extend the lease proposal deadline to July 31 and re-advertise bids following a recommendation from the Secretary of State’s office.
16th Section Land Manager Mike Ainsworth said only one proposal made it in before the previously set May 7 deadline, and one proposal came in late, rendering it invalid.
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Marvell Howard also presented a plan during Monday’s separate public hearing in which the county would take over the day-to-day operation of the property and its associated lease.
Under Howard’s plan, an estimated $85,000 worth of tax dollars would be used to secure the 407-acre lease and hire one full-time employee to maintain the property. The employee’s salary would start at $30,000, but insurance and social security costs would push the figure to $43,680.
The county would also need to take out $1 million in liability insurance.
“We’ve got four options: We can do nothing and lock the gates — that’s off the table; the school board can operate it; we can hope a proposal will come in that’s agreeable to this board and benefits the citizens and school board — we’re hopeful for this; or we can do this ‘in-case’ option,” Howard said during the board’s public hearing on the matter. “The bottom line is a locked up county lake isn’t good for anyone. We’re trying to work through the problem and get direction. I think the consensus is to keep the county lake public.”
An overwhelming majority of the 50-plus audience in attendance for Monday’s public hearing agreed with Howard by showing support for a publicly accessible county lake. Many in attendance said the county should try to coax the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks — the previous lease holder — back to the negotiating table and share property expenses with the organization while it maintains the level of control it once had. Citizens also suggested challenging the county lake’s recent reappraisal — almost $100 per acre — by securing an outside appraiser. Howard said the appraisal, which was approved by the Secretary of State’s office, could be changed if an outside source developed a different price per acre and substantiated it enough for that office’s approval.
At the end of the hearing, Howard said the board would sit back and see how many and what kind of proposals the school board received before taking any action on the matter.
Before the school board approved its action, Ainsworth also said Clyde Pritchard of Pritchard Engineering conducted a survey of the land to ascertain the 16th section’s southeast corner. This corner’s location had never been established before, he said, and as a result, it was uncertain whether the spillway controlling the lake’s water level was inside or outside the 16th section’s borders.
If the spillway was inside the borders, the OCSD would be responsible for it, Ainsworth said. However, it turned out to be outside the borders, he said, so it falls under the supervisors’ purview.
“Without having a survey, we would not know that,” Ainsworth said.
The board has set a July 1 deadline for the MWFPD to remove all of its improvements to the lake before those improvements become OCSD property, and Ainsworth said it is important to wait until after this deadline to begin evaluating proposals. In a related matter, Ainsworth said there are two RVs still parked on the property, costing the OCSD money for electricity and water. Bennie Jones, OCSD attorney, said the county would take action against the trespassers.
“The sheriff is aware of what’s going on,” Jones said. “We are working on getting them removed.”