Funding was major topic of discussion at Pearl River County Economic Development meeting
Members of the Pearl River County Economic Development Council met Tuesday to further discuss the progress of the new organization that has been in the works for nearly two years. Representatives at the meeting included Pearl River Community College representative Brenda Wells; Picayune Grant Manager Christy Goss; Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Farr; Pearl River County Supervisors Donald Hart, Farron Moeller, and Hudson Holliday and Board Attorney Joe Montgomery, as well as members of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District and the Mississippi Development Authority. To move forward with the proposed organization, SMPD project manager, Lindsay Ward, advised the group they needed to approve the draft of bylaws, finalize the promised $150,000 in funding and complete the 501(c)3 application. On topic with economic growth, Board President, Sandy Kane Smith, joined the meeting via-phone to suggest putting a packet together to submit to the Mazda Corporation for their consideration in placing a plant in Pearl River County. Rumors have already been circulating that the car manufacturer has plans to build their next factory in the state of Mississippi, and Smith thought it wise to make sure they were at the very least aware of Pearl River County. “Most of the time by the time this stuff comes out, they already know where they want to go,” Smith said. “But I want them to at least acknowledge Pearl River County and I think we should let them know we are interested in them coming there.” According to members of SMPD, if an economic development organization had already been established, their job would have been to do just that; promote and market the county with the goal of attracting new business, like Mazda. “We can’t keep on doing what we’ve always done,” newly appointed Picayune Chamber of Commerce President Terry Farr said at the meeting. “I don’t think we’d ever be embarrassed to ask a major corporation to come here, but you’ve got to get them here one way or another. And then when they get here, you’ve got to be ready to make them say ‘Dang this is Mississippi? This is great.’ I’m just saying something needs to take place to get us on the right track.” The lack of progress in forming the organization however is due largely to a lack of funding. A large portion of the meeting was focused on acquiring the necessary funds to move forward. As it stands, the county has committed $150,000 in funding and the city of Poplarville has tentatively budgeted $15,000 a year. The city of Picayune, however, has yet to make any financial commitments to the project. Many of the Economic Development Council members expressed a desire for Picayune to contribute in the future. Supervisor Hudson Holliday said he would at the very least like to see Picayune match Poplarville’s portion. “In a perfect world, Picayune would be on board, Poplarville would be on board, and the supervisors would be on board. I love teamwork, but for whatever reason, Picayune hasn’t been willing to support this,” Holliday said. According to Picayune’s representative at the meeting, Christy Goss, City Manager Jim Luke and Operations Director Harvey Miller are committed to economic growth and development, but the mayor and council would have to make any final decisions as far as funding is concerned. In an interview on Thursday, Picayune City Council Member, Wayne Gouguet stated “We’ll always consider it. The problem is we are pulled in a lot of different directions as far as what we need to provide services. We didn’t raise taxes last year; we held our own and our budgets are just tight. Our drive and our goal is to not raise taxes on our citizens, and at the end of the day, we just don’t have $50,000 at this point in time to put into it.” Picayune’s portion, however would still only secure temporary funding and according to SMPD advisors, it would be unlikely for an individual to relocate to Pearl River County to head the organization with only the promise of funding that could be undone or taken away when the current councils, alderman, and supervisors terms are up. That is why other avenues to secure more permanent funds, such as a Public-Private partnership should be explored, Ward explained. Another possibility for insuring permanent funding for the organization is a one cent sales tax on prepared foods and lodging. According to estimates, a one cent tax could result in nearly $600,000 in revenue, and would certainly provide the funds needed. However, the county would need legislative approval to implement such a tax, something they are not positive they could get without a united front, which they currently do not have, even amongst supervisors. “Someone said it’s like the cost of an extra penny for your biscuit, but when a family of four goes out to eat it’s going to be much more than a penny and multiply that over the course of a year, it’s just more taxes and more taxes and more taxes. I’m just against raising most taxes because it always goes up but it almost never comes back down,” Supervisor Malcolm Perry said in an interview on Thursday. “I told them that when I feel like we’re using the money we have wisely, all of it, and we don’t have enough, then I may be for it, but I don’t feel that way right now.” Along with proposed bylaws, Ward also presented the group with a possible timeline as well as a budget for the project. The more modest of the two budgets allocated $70,000 as a salary for the executive director, with an overall budget between $186,500 and $218,500 per year.
“The bylaws need to be finalized before anything else like a sales tax is discussed so that we protect the county and our investments.” Board President Smith said after the meeting. “We need to learn from our mistakes in the past and make sure we are protecting ourselves and are working in the tax payers best interest. I’m not ready to jump on a sales tax yet.”
Ward also advised the council to go forward with the idea brought up by Board President Smith in a previous meeting of hosting a public workshop between the county and municipalities to discuss the project and the proposed increase in sales tax. The meeting Tuesday adjourned with the plan to review the issues discussed at the Board of Supervisors meeting the next day, Wednesday Aug 23, with the rest of the supervisors and to hopefully hold a vote on how to proceed. However after two executive sessions on the matter, no public vote was made by the board.