By CARL SMITH
Newly named Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer says he wants to increase government-public communication on pressing county issues by holding more public hearings in the future.
One such hearing could come sometime this year as Trainer wants to gauge public interest on a county infrastructure bond package. While Trainer says he hopes supervisors will develop district-specific lists to identify needed projects, he said he wants the public to become more engaged with the board about the issues and the needs they personally see.
“Going forward means the possibility of having more public hearings and getting people engaged. I’ll be glad to come to the courthouse and let the public tell us what we need in Oktibbeha County, even if they fuss at me,” Trainer said alluding to recent backlash from pro-OCH Regional Medical Center representatives. “Even if we have some rough spots (with public disagreement), we need to be candid and hold more sessions where people can come in and talk to (elected representatives).”
During Monday’s board meeting, Trainer again said the county should take advantage of low interest rates and pursue a $10 million bond for various infrastructure improvements and new projects. Each year, the county receives smaller portions of state funding for such process, he said, while the cost of fuel and supplies continues to rise.
Calls for bonds are not rare requests from the senior board member. Three bond-intent motions by Trainer ranging from $9.5 million to $3 million were defeated this year by a majority board vote. To foot the bill, he said the board could find existing funding by gutting current allocations for road and bridge projects or add on up to 3 mills in the future. Road projects, he says, will then help raise property values, thereby adding additional money to the county rolls. Currently, a mill brings in approximately $302,000 to the county coffers.
While Trainer says he favors road projects with any potential bond money, language of any bond-intent notice could be framed for projects well beyond simply paving roads. He said a resolution could be crafted divvying funds up between the five county supervisors and used to tackle individual district-specific project lists or countywide issues, including new construction projects for the county health department and recreation centers, and funding any move necessary to support Oktibbeha County Lake’s 16th section lease if no qualified bidder emerges.
After Trainer suggested the bond package, supervisors were hesitant to proceed with an intent notice and tabled the issue. District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson agreed with Trainer’s comment about the continuing reductions in state aid but said cutting the existing road budget would cause more harm than good even if the county had a sum of money up front.
“I get more complaints (from constituents) about taxes than the conditions of the roadways. I have to do what I think is acceptable for District 4 (constituents),” Jackson said Monday. “I don’t see (funding) being in our cash flow now. (The county levies) about 6 mills for roads and a bout 4.5 mills for bridges. When you take half of each of those (to fund bond payments), you have our forces cut and not able to continue working year round.”
District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams said the county would save more money in the long run by receiving bond funding up front instead of suffering through ever-increasing costs. He also said he was concerned with the current yearly progress of the county road crews. Recently, County Road Manager Victor Collins said road crews were approximately 75-80 percent complete with this year’s assigned work within the county’s overall four-year road plan. If the area experiences a mild, dry winter, Collins said crews will continue working as long as they can until temperature drops slow asphalt production.
“In addition to that, individuals would enjoy the benefit of having a paved road. You don’t know how important it is to have a paved road until you’ve lived on a rock (road),” Williams said. “We’re going to fall short … and we won’t get our four-year road plan complete. In my view, that road plan is just a minimal amount (of work) to satisfy the citizens of Oktibbeha County. Even if we completed it, we would still have a lot of infrastructure (needs).”
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said although supervisors should always assess funding sources and capabilities yearly, he wants to see a specific plan for projects before the county proceeds with a bond-intent notice. Howard also said he believes Collins’ crews will complete their assigned work this year and have a head start on next year’s plans.
“Given the weather, I think (road crews) will be way beyond (their current progress) by the time the end of the year is here. I’ve always got to sing praises to the road manager and what our road department is doing,” Howard said. “My … concern is a lack of a specific plan. Before I agree to go borrow $10 million, I’d like to see a specific plan laid out (that) we can present to the citizens of the county to say what we’re specifically doing. We’ve talked a couple of times (about finding funding in existing budget structures). I’d like to see that avenue happen. Without exploring that (and) without a specific plan, I just couldn’t support just to go out and borrow $10 million.”
On Tuesday, Trainer said he can go ahead and develop a plan for his district and analyze the county road plans to develop other district-specific infrastructure needs but he would rather individual supervisors themselves create project lists.
“I’m all about people getting together with ideas, putting them down on paper and figuring out what is doable. I wouldn’t want to just draft something specific because then it’s my thing, but we don’t need to wait until someone alone brings ideas,” he said. “What I’ll do is I’ll talk with supervisors individually. It won’t be difficult to find project needs in the various districts.”
District 5 Supervisor and newly elected board Vice President John Montgomery said he will oppose any tax increase as long as the current economic climate remains stagnant. Montgomery also said he was not opposed to any future meetings with constituents but citizens can come to either of the board’s monthly meetings.
“I have a lot of people who say their taxes have become a heavy burden on them. (A $10 million bond) would be another burden on the taxpayers, and I don’t think it would totally solve our road issues in the county. Who is to say we wouldn’t need more money in the future (following a road bond)? Then you’d have taxpayers again needing to foot that bill,” he said. “In these current economic times, I will not support any new bond issue that forces our taxpayers to foot the bill. I just don’t think the people can sustain another bond issue. It’s one of those situations where we’d love to get more done, but it’s also like a lot of people say they’d personally like to get more done with their own finances. It’s just a sign of the economic times we’re in right now.”