Though neither business item was listed on Monday’s Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors agenda, board members presented motions regarding both the OCH Regional Medical Center and the Oktibbeha County Lake. Each motion failed in a 3-2 vote, and as a result, there will not be an assessment in the near future regarding the potential sale or lease of the hospital, and the lake is still closed to the public.
District 3 Supervisor and Board President Marvell Howard asked supervisors to approve a plan for the county to pay a yearly amount not to exceed $100,000 to Golden Triangle Planning and Development District to oversee day-to-day operations and maintenance of the lake. The plan would have kept the lake under county control without a tax increase, Howard said, because there are funds already available in the budget.
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery seconded the motion, but District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer, District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams voted against the measure, opting to provide more time for potential bidders to propose lease plans.
The lake’s former lease holders, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, declined to renew its lease option with the Oktibbeha County School District after it ended in April. To date, the board has received a $25,000 yearly lease proposal from former Mississippi State University basketball coach Rick Stansbury and John Barnett. The board rejected the proposal Aug. 7 because it did not meet the lake’s appraised value of an estimated $40,700 a year.
Trainer said he had recently received calls from Stansbury saying he and Barnett were willing to meet that financial requirement.
“I just think what we need to do is before we move, to wait and see whether that transaction is going to materialize,” Trainer said. “I think the biggest question is whether the lake will be accessible to the public, but in my mind, based upon what I’ve seen in black and white, the lake has to remain accessible to the public regardless of who has it.”
Howard said there is no guarantee that the lake stays open for public use if the county enters an agreement with a private party.
“That lake has been closed now for six months. Mr. Stansbury and them have had opportunity after opportunity to step up and lease the lake if that’s what they had chosen to do. My stance is and always has been in order to absolutely guarantee that Oktibbeha County Lake remains open to the public, the best way to do that is to make sure it’s funded by public dollars,” Howard said. “That way, you ensure beyond a reasonable doubt that the Oktibbeha County Lake stays open to these citizens publicly to access and use at any given time. There is absolutely no guarantee that says a private person leases that property that they have to remain public because it’s their property.”
Williams said while there is funding in the budget that can be used for the lake, it is not earmarked specifically for it.
“In relation to us being able to decide whether or not the public can use it, that would be decided by the contractual agreement that we make with the private person,” Williams said. “I think we’re a little premature making that decision today because this is almost winter and very few people are going to be out using the lake this time of year. I think we’ve got time to wait until we can get some more bids in and see what those bids look like.”
Later in the meeting Trainer presented the board with a resolution to select HORNE, a Jackson-based accounting firm, to proceed with an assessment of OCH Regional Medical Center. Trainer said the firm has previously done assessments in Grenada and Greenwood. The motion failed 3-2, with Williams in support of Trainer and Montgomery, Howard and Jackson opposed.
“I think that what (HORNE) would do (is) they have the expertise to provide factual information that people can look at, and if there’s ever a decision that needs to be made, I would wait until we have factual information,” Trainer said. “At this point the lease, sell, to keep or don’t keep, we’re not at a point to make that decision. I think we are at a point where we need to do some due diligence to make sure that whatever decision we decide to make that we have enough information to make that decision.”
Jackson said while he will continue to support keeping the hospital under county control, the hospital needs to make financial adjustments to remove the burden of paying for the hospital from county residents.
“I’m asking the hospital, administration and board of trustees to look seriously at restructuring your debt over the next few years and taking over this millage on your own,” Jackson said. “Before that bond issue (in 2008) there never was this kind of push to sell the hospital. That’s been my stance all along and I’m not budging on supporting the hospital, but you need to look seriously at getting these bonds off the taxpayers’ back.”