Usually, the monthly financial review goes at the end of the Pike County Board of Supervisors’ agenda. But on Thursday, board president Sam Hall placed it near the top in anticipation of requests for increased funding.
Comptroller Becky O’Quin said the general fund cash balance is $459,246, the lowest it’s been in the past two years.
“What caused that?” asked Supervisor Robert Accardo. “We’re in our third meeting and we haven’t spent any money.”
The newly elected board has just begun a four-year term.
Expenditures for the month are up $54,000, mainly due to increases in insurance premiums: health, liability and workers compensation, O’Quin said.
Plus, this is normally a lean time anyway as the board waits for taxes to come in.
“That is why it’s so important that every department sticks to its budget,” Hall said. “It’s no time for extra spending.”
“That’s what I’m asking is for everyone to stay within their budget,” O’Quin agreed.
“That’s what I want everybody to hear, so they’ll understand how we make our decisions,” Hall said.
Accardo suggested transferring $235,000 into the general fund from economic development funds “so that we could have some cushion to operate through the fiscal year.”
But Supervisor Tazwell Bowsky said it would be better to use that money to pay off any outstanding bond issues.
Supervisors asked county administrator Tami Dangerfield to do an analysis of county finances and make a recommendation at the next board meeting.
Roads a top priority
Fernwood resident Jack Martin, a regular visitor to the board, said he had “a bunch of complaints” to present.
He cited rough approaches to two bridges on Fernwood Road and one on McKenzie Road as well as uneven pavement on Fernwood Road.
Patching the road with tar has not worked, he said.
Martin said bad roads take a toll on public vehicles like school buses, patrol cars and county work trucks, meaning more money spent on repairs and replacements.
“The roads are a main issue in this county right now,” Martin said. “I think it’s a No. 1 priority in this county.”
Martin said bad roads also deter economic development.
“Nobody wants to come to Gateway (Industrial Park) because of the condition of the roads,” he said.
He also said the red light at Highway 51 and Airport-Road needs work as it allows just 11 seconds for traffic to cross. Sheriff James Brumfield said he will talk to the Mississippi Department of Transportation about adjusting the stoplight.
Accardo told Martin supervisors understand his complaints.
“A lot of people around this board ran on the very things you’re talking about.” Accardo said. “We are in the process of adopting a four-year road plan. A lot of what you’re talking about will be contained in that.”
But he reminded Martin that the board has limited funds to work with.
Martin replied, “We’ve got to stop putting a band-aid on it and put stitches on it.”
Martin said he has a half mile of old railroad bed rock he’d be glad to donate to the county if road workers will dump a load on his property for every load they take.
“I’m here to make this county better,” Martin said. “I moved here from Alabama and started a business. I’m not here to browbeat you.”
The board agreed to have road superintendent Wendell Alexander check out Martin’s rock supply.
“I’ve got a feeling we will be able to use it,” Hall said.
Officers’ safety at issue
Supervisors took up a request Sheriff James Brumfield made at the last meeting for $178,580 for uniforms, guns, holsters, bulletproof vests, furniture and overtime pay for an upcoming multi-week murder trial.
“We’re not in a position right now to amend the budget,” Hall said at the outset of the discussion. “If you stick to the budget you can get at least through the cycle we’re in now.”
Brumfield said Lincoln County will pay for the overtime — $40,000 — since it’s a Lincoln case, but otherwise the requests are essential.
“It’s a safety issue as far as our officers are concerned,” Brumfield said. “My people need the uniforms and the weapons. Is it worth the officers’ safety and the safety of the citizens of Pike County?”
“That’s not fair to put it this way to us,” Hall said. “You’ve got enough money in the budget to do that. It’s not time to amend the budget, because we’re short.”
Bowsky noted $33,968 in a seizures fund, formerly used for the now-defunct Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Enforcement Unit, and $13,555 in the sheriff’s donation fund.
Brumfield said he hadn’t received an updated budget with those figures.
Supervisors expressed determination to solve the sheriff’s problems, but asked him to submit an updated request for the Jan. 31 board meeting, when they will make a decision.
“We all want to support the sheriff, but it’s our duty to watch the money,” Hall said.
Public defender offices
At the last meeting, supervisors looked over two old buildings as possible space for the public defender’s department, which currently lacks an office.
Supervisors looked at the old health department building on Highway 51 North, Magnolia, and the election commissioners offices on South Cherry Street.
Supervisors then received a letter from public defender Paul Luckett saying he could use half the health department building once it’s cleaned and gets carpet and furniture.
Luckett rejected the Cherry Street building, citing an architect’s report that it needs more parking, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant entry ramp and bathroom, electrical renovations and mold removal.
Luckett also said attorney Dee Shandy will rent the public defenders a building for $700 a month for one year, down from her earlier offer of $800.
Accardo said he learned it would take $4,000 to $5,000 to equip the health department building with internet access, not to mention other work. The Cherry Street building would cost next to nothing and will be available as soon as election commissioners move to the renovated Election Central building, probably in March.
“That (Cherry Street) building is not attractive to look at. It’s an old Craftsman house painted an ugly color. But I just spent eight years of my life there,” Accardo said, referring to his two terms as an election commissioner.
He also said an inspection revealed no mold problem.
Bowsky and Hall suggested checking to see if Shandy will rent her building a month at a time, allowing the public defender to stay there until other space is ready.
Supervisors asked Dangerfield to check with Shandy, and said they will make a decision at the next meeting.