County eyes 4 mill tax increaseBy FLOYD INGRAM / THE PRESS REGISTER,
Coahoma County property taxes could go up four mills next year as supervisors look at financing final construction costs at the new jail, equipping their E911 center and central county fire station and building the Jonestown bypass.
Supervisors opened bids for the Jonestown bypass project Monday and the low bid was $2.6 million to finish the project that will take truck traffic on Highway 316 around the around the town and basically connect Marks with Friar’s Point. The project has been in the making for years, federal money has already been earmarked for the work, but the county’s cost has prompted many delays.
A local and private bill sponsored by State Representative Orlando Paden that has been referred to the House Local and Private Committee would borrow money from the county’s hospital trust fund to finance a loan that would pay for the justice center and the Jonestown project. As required, the county would have to pay that money back to the fund.
Supervisors initially looked at borrowing approximately $2 million to pay for the justice center and on Monday added the Jonestown bypass to their list. The board voted to hire bond attorneys and amend Paden’s bill to include the Jonestown bypass in House Bill 1586.
One mill added to the county’s ad valorem tax raises approximately $100,000 and it was projected a two mill tax would service a 15-year loan to pay for the justice center. Monday’s move sends the estimated tax increase to four mills.
Cost overruns at the Justice Center have repeatedly prompted the county to try and use county workers and equipment to help with construction at the new jail and justice court building. Four supervisors met in an apparent illegal and uncalled meeting last week with a consultant to look at wiring in the new building.
The $12.49 million Justice Center was initially slated to be open last summer. The county initially obtained a general obligation bond that they thought would pay for the entire project.
Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center saw its former owner Curae go bankrupt in 2019 and it was rebought by its previous owner CHS (Community Health Systems). Language in the county’s hospital trust fund says that money can only be spent on the hospital.
The county had a fund of approximately $30 million from the sale of the facility several years ago and that fund has dropped to roughly $26 million. The county took $3 million to meet payroll while the hospital was in bankruptcy.
The hospital has basically shut its doors during the coronavirus outbreak and has not been doing elective surgery or taking walk-in patients unless it was an emergency. Elective surgery is one of the most lucrative segments of healthcare and the emergency room funnels patients to the clinics of local doctors for follow up care.
CHS bought Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center from Curae last summer and finalized their lease with Coahoma County Supervisors in January. A report from the county’s hospital consultant Trilogy proposed a new 50-bed micro hospital be built and estimates have the cost of that facility coming in at around $25 million.
In other business:
In a strange turn of events a meeting held after two supervisors left Monday’s video meeting saw three supervisors initially vote to pay themselves mileage for travel and also direct County Administrator Morgan Wood to proceed with purchasing trucks for three supervisors.
On a motion by Board President and Dist. 4 Supervisor Johnny Newson, a second by Dist. 5 Supervisor Roosevelt Lee, and supported by Dist. 3 Supervisor Derrell Washington, the county voted to begin paying for in county travel for supervisors without trucks.
“I have previously made the motion that we not to pay for in-county travel,” said Newson. “But today I am making a motion that we reverse that.”
Monday’s vote came after the board finished its regular agenda and apparently finished its meeting with Dist. 2 supervisor Pat Davis, who was attending the meeting via phone, asked if the meeting was over and when he was told it was, hung up. Dist. 1 Supervisor Paul Pearson, then left the meeting saying he would return and about 30-minutes later did return and lodged a vote against paying in-county mileage.