After more than a year, an ongoing Oktibbeha County lawsuit has been settled.
At the end of the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, County Attorney Rob Roberson said he had been working toward settling the lawsuit involving bridge panels, and said the county had broken some rules initially, including going onto property illegally. The suit was settled by allowing Westhaven Farms LLC, where the panels were located, to keep the panels, in addition to $2,000 to repair damage done by the county on the property. Roberson said the damages included a bent gate, ruts in a pasture and damage to a fire lane. The vote tally was 3-1, with District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery opposed and Board President and District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer absent.
“This has been a long time coming to try to get this bridge panel issue on Reed Road resolved,” Roberson said.
Two other votes were made, one to label the panels as salvage and one to acknowledge that the county damaged property at Westhaven Farms. Roberson said the salvage value of the panels was $1,450.
“The panel’s values were under $3,500,” Roberson said. “We all received a letter from the farm notifying us of damage he felt was done on the farm in the amount of $13,000,” Roberson said.
Roberson said he went out to the property after receiving the letter, and saw that there was damage to certain areas of the property. He said initially the county had broken some property without permission from the owner and not approving the salvage rate for the panels before they were moved to the property. He also said the landowner did not want the county on the property.
He said the landowner, Walt Starr, had agreed to the settlement after discussion.
Initially, the Mississippi State Auditor’s office was investigating the case, due to the improper giving of the panels to Starr. However, the officedetermined that the issue would be better resolved by the county. Roberson said the county had complied fully with the State Auditor.
Montgomery said he voted against the settlement because he thought the bridge panels were enough compensation on their own.
“That’s just my opinion,” Montgomery said. “I thought that would have been on the county’s end, a fair deal.”
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, who initially told Starr he could keep the panels, commended Roberson on his handling of the matter.
“I just want to thank our board attorney for working through this,” Howard said.
Roberson said the issue being settled was a weight lifted off of the county's shoulders.
"I am extremely happy that this is behind us," Roberson said. "It's something that needed to be taken care of, and it should be a weight lifted off of the shoulders of thencounty just to deal with."
The supervisors also unanimously approved the purchase of a pumper truck for the Maben Volunteer Fire Department. The lowest bid was $305,797 for an engine built by KME Fire Apparatus on a Freightliner chassis.
Oktibbeha County Fire ServiceCoordinator Kirk Rosenhan said all four bids received were from reputable manufacturers.
Rosenhan said Maben’s current fire rating was an 8, but could potentially improve to a 7 with the new truck.
The department’s current pumper is older than required for the lower rating. Once the new truck arrives after it is built, the old pumper will be reconfigured as a rescue truck, and the current rescue truck will be retired.
“While it’s in great shape, the problem is it’s 17 years old, and has a 15- year theoretical limit that the rating bureau puts on it,” Rosenhan said.
With the rating improving from an 8 from a 9 earlier this year, Maben residents could see as much as a 60% decrease in insurance costs based on local agents' assessments of a $214,000 brick home. In a class 10, the rate would be $7,239, at $3,161 at a class 8 and $2,637 at a class 7.
Rosenhan said the potential 7 rating would be the lowest the area could go, mainly due to the area being served by a volunteer department with limited resources.
“We anticipate with the new engine, which will be a year, or a little less, that and some other things we’re working on will bring us on down to a 7,” Rosenhan said.