Supervisors

Supervisors agreed creek drainage across the county was an issue but could not agree on whether joining an outside organization to fix it would be beneficial in the long run.

Oktibbeha County Supervisors agreed Monday to delay voting on a resolution to join the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District.

The state-created agency dates back to 1962 and has broad power to regulate and develop the water channels, including drainage creeks, connected to the Tombigbee River.

Twelve counties have joined the organization since its creation, including Clay County and Lowndes County.

While the Board of Supervisors agreed to discuss it further at a later date, District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery was outspokenly against joining the organization.

"I'm not for this," Montgomery said. "I've looked into this, and there's counties that it's several years before a project is ever done."

Projects done by the organization include cleaning out creeks and other blocked drainage channels, something District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams said Oktibbeha County desperately needed.

"There are individuals, especially in my district, whose home areas flooded out," Williams said. "They can't even get out of their house. We don't have anything now to clean out the creeks, and people's homes are getting flooded."

One concern shared among the board was the inability for Oktibbeha County to leave the organization after joining. Another was the millage commitment, which would require the county to commit just under half of one mil, roughly $139,000, to the organization each year.

The millage commitment would come from a reshuffling of existing taxes, Board Attorney Rob Roberson said, rather than new taxes, though he warned supervisors their constituents might think otherwise.

Roberson said the resolution that would be published if supervisors ultimately decided to join the TRVWMD could be misinterpreted by readers and lead them to think taxes were going up.

"It looks like we're raising taxes even though we're not," Roberson said. "That's what it will look like."

This contribution along with contributions from other member counties would fund future projects, though those projects would not necessarily benefit Oktibbeha County.

District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said that fact worried him.

"I'm not so much concerned with moving that money around to fulfill an obligation," Howard said. "What gives me pause is if we get into things and we only get a project done every 10 years."

Howard said he would be less concerned if the county had more representation on the board of the TRVWMD. The organization has 33 seats on its board of directors. Oktibbeha County would gain four members if it joined, three of which would be appointed by supervisors while the fourth would be picked by the governor.

Howard admitted having the county's creeks cleaned up would be a service that would benefit Oktibbeha County but remained hesitant due to the inability for the county to leave once it became a member.

"If they come in and do three or four creeks here, it's well worth it," Howard said. "It's money well spent. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that we can't get back out of it once we join."

Williams argued there would be no need for the county to want to leave after joining.

"Do we really have to get back out of it?" Williams said. "I mean, we're going to continuously have creek problems."

Montgomery said he firmly believed this was not the right solution for Oktibbeha County's drainage problems related to creeks and waterways.

"We're going to have to annually put in $139,000-plus, forever," Montgomery said.

The supervisor also said he had reached out to supervisors in counties that were a part of the TRVWMD and had found little fanfare for the organization.

"I think it's prudent for board members to realize what you are and what you may not be getting out of this agreement," Montgomery said.

Montgomery said his stance on the issue largely came down to his belief that it was not right for his constituents.

"I'm elected to protect the taxpayers of this county, and I think that's a hefty price tag," Montgomery said. "I proudly say no to this right now, based on what I've heard from other supervisors in other counties."

Howard ended the discussion by putting forward a motion to suspend talks of Oktibbeha County joining the TRVWMD until a later date and until more research could be done on the risks and benefits of joining, which was unanimously approved.

After the decision, Williams cited his own constituents as being in need and posed a question for the board.

"I think we all agree there's a need," Williams said. "So if we're not going to do it through Tombigbee river waterway management, then the question lies how are we going to clean the creeks out?"

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