Courthouse insurance on agenda

By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times

An insurance adjuster is to meet with Webster County leaders next
week to follow up on previous talks about the courthouse insurance
settlement.

General adjuster Patrick Blankenship of Engle Martin & Associates
will meet again with county supervisors at 10 a.m. April 22 regarding
the insurance settlement for the courthouse, according to board
President Pat Cummings. The courthouse burned in January.

Eddie Mauck, the county’s insurance agent, came to Monday’s Board of
Supervisors meeting expecting Blankenship to be there based upon
discussions at the April 1 board meeting. However, Cummings told
Mauck that Blankenship plans to meet with the board next Monday.

CDBG application
During Monday’s county board meeting, local architect Belinda
Stewart, who is also the mayor of Walthall, and District Planner
George Crawford of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development
District. Stewart discussed options and recommendations for
courthouse grants and the construction process.

Stewart recommended that the county apply for a Community Development
Block Grant from the Mississippi Development Authority to make the
existing courthouse handicap accessible if the building is restored.
If the county is awarded the grant and decides not to restore the
building, she said the county could return the grant.

While such grants are intended for existing buildings, she said MDA
might let the county revise its application and use the grant on a
new building if the courthouse can’t be restored. Such grants
typically range from $400,000-$700,000.

After discussion with Stewart and Crawford, the board voted to apply
for the grant and authorized the GTPDD to advertise a related public
hearing set for 10 a.m. May 9.

Regarding the feasibility of restoring the courthouse, Stewart said
the question the board must consider is whether or not doing so will
take more money than the county gets from its insurance settlement.

Stewart recommended that an engineer specializing in historic
buildings perform in-depth structural analysis of the building,
adding that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is
offering to pay for such a study. Afterwards, an architectural firm
could give a cost estimate for restoring it.

“Then you have real numbers,” she said.

Robert Hitt (District 1) asked Stewart about the availability of 14.2
acres that the village of Walthall has bought on the west side of the
intersection of highways 9 and 50, apparently referring to possibly
building a new courthouse there. She responded, “We’ll do what we can
to keep it (the courthouse) in Walthall. … if it’s determined that it
can’t be built back.”

However, Stewart said she hoped the Board of Supervisors would want
to restore the building if the cost is the same for building a new
courthouse.

When the lack of space in the pre-fire courthouse was brought up,
Stewart suggested these options: building an annex across from the
courthouse for either the chancery or circuit clerk’s office, or a
building for storage, or expanding the courthouse on the west side.

Stewart told supervisors she was not appearing before the board to
try to get hired and would still work with the county if her firm is
not officially involved in the courthouse construction process.
Other Business

Also Monday, the Board of Supervisors met with Sheriff Tim Mitchell
for about 10 minutes in executive session to discuss litigation. No
related action was taken afterwards in open session.

In other business, the board voted to:
• transfer the $5,000 remaining in the 2011 tornado recovery fund to
the blacktop fund.
• authorize the signing of documents to close out the Ansell Hawkeye
industrial access road project and approve payment of final
administrative costs to the GTPDD. Crawford said the federal/state-
funded project, which was initiated in 2006, is officially complete.
• accept amounts from road equipment sold at Tony Thomas Auction on
April 6 and remove the equipment from the county inventory.
• pay the cost of repairs to Mathiston Fire Department’s county truck
totaling $1,206. Mathiston Fire Chief Lee Gilliland appeared before
the board about the matter.

EMA officials
commended
Also Monday, Cummings reported that Gov. Phil Bryant and Robert
Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management
Agency, had contacted him to recognize Webster County’s EMA officials
for their assistance in Noxubee County last week.

Webster County EMA Director Barry Rushing and Deputy Director Richard
Love, at the request of MEMA, responded after a tornado hit Noxubee
County on April 11. The tornado touched down just after 12:30 p.m.
and destroyed numerous homes in the Shuqualak and Prairie Point
communities.