Pearl River Basin Development District set to close its doors
The Pearl River Basin Development District will close its doors for good in 2018. The special funds state agency serves 10 member counties, from Neshoba to Hancock, all located along the Pearl River and its tributaries.
The District was established in 1964 to oversee the balanced growth of the water resource potentials of the Pearl River as well as recreational parks, promote the economy, and environmental wellness for its county members, but money is running dry.
In the past counties have paid assessment fees, which allowed the development district to provide them with grants for park maintenance and upgrades. However, due to a lack of money from the district counties have forgone their membership, leaving the agency with no assessment fees and no state funding.
"We have lost eight of our 15 counties and that's a large part of our revenue." Executive Vice President Mike Davis said. "And for the last three years the state of Mississippi has provided $200,000 in general funds and that supply of money has stopped as well, so we are basically at a shortage for cash."
With the combined loss of Neshoba and Hancock county, plus the end of state assistance the agency will lost $375,000 in 2016.
"Our board of directors has actually been looking at the possibility of shutting down for six or seven years now but we've been able to keep going," Davis said. "But now the funding is just not there and we are in a situation where we have no other recourse but to shut down."
The District is now in the beginning stages of closing and many public parks and recreational areas along the Pear River will begin changing hands in the coming months. Some of these parks will be purchased at 1960s prices by counties and municipalities who will then have to adhere to federal regulations and maintain the parks themselves.
"It's really a unique situation, taking these steps to close," Davis said. "We'll be transferring titles of parks to board of supervisors, for example Pearl River County will legally own Walkiah Bluff water park for the first time ever."
Walkiah Bluff consists of 18 acres in Pearl River County four miles northwest of Picayune off Highway 43. The park's facilities include campsites with water and electricity, a bathhouse, a baseball field, a boat ramp, a pavilion, a comfort station, picnic tables and grills, which according to Davis has been maintained by the county for some time now.
The closing of this agency also means a change in sponsorship for the Lower Pearl River Restoration Project, a project started by the District, Pearl River County and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers back in 1998. According to Davis the project affects all of Pearl River County and the agency hopes to work with the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors on becoming the new project sponsor.
"We don't need to lose any ground that these guys have worked and helped so many years to establish,” Pearl River County supervisor Malcolm Perry said. “In my opinion we need to help anyway we can to make this a smooth transition for our county.”
According to Davis the District will be working with the Governor's office, legislators, and county officials to help with the coming transitions since there is just no blue print on shutting down a state agency.