By Daniel Brunty
The Webster Progress-Times
The Webster County Board of Supervisors has decided to allow the residents of the county to participate in a referendum on whether to renovate the burnt courthouse or to construct an entirely new facility.
With opinions varying as to whether the county should rebuild the courthouse or construct an entirely new building, the supervisors have stayed neutral and have focused throughout the entire process in acquiring the necessary funds through the insurance settlement so they can begin making progress in constructing a courthouse for the county.
During their recessed meeting this past Monday, board members decided that in order for a decision to be made on the issue, the best course of action would be for the residents of the county to have their say on the matter, with hopes of bringing everyone together and do what is in the best interest of the county.
After an extensive discussion between the supervisors and board attorney Buchanan Meek Jr., Doug Burgess (District 5) made a motion to hold a special referendum on the issue to repair and restore the existing burnt courthouse or build a new courthouse.
Randy Rico (District 3) seconded the motion and the board voted unanimously to proceed with the referendum, which will be scheduled at a later date.
Related courthouse business at the board’s previous meeting, which was to include an appearance by public adjuster Scott Favre of Kiln, was delayed by his absence. The board rescheduled to meet with him during Monday’s meeting; however, he was again absent because of weather conditions not allowing him to fly.
Board President Pat Cummings spoke with Favre before the meeting, and Favre agreed to participate in a conference call with the board to receive any news, if any, on the insurance claim settlement. Over the call, Favre informed the board members that the insurance company, One Beacon Insurance, had not responded to a letter to evoke the appraisal process.
Favre went on to explain that the insurance company had not reached its deadline to respond to the letter, which was 30 days. Favre informed the board that Jan. 4 would be the 30 days, and he expects to hear a response before that time. The board, expecting to receive a figure regarding the settlement Monday, was not too surprised, and agreed to wait for the 30-day period to arrive before taking any other action.
Cummings also informed the board that he had contacted Perry County District 5 Supervisor Lanny Mixon regarding photos in the Progress-Times of the Perry County Courthouse. Cummings stated he contacted Mixon to get information about renovating a burnt courthouse in case Webster County decided to go in that direction.
Cummings had agreed with Mixon in participating in a conference call with the board members during their meeting to give them both the negatives and positives regarding restoring a damaged courthouse.
Mixon began the call by giving the supervisors a background on how the courthouse burned and the renovation process. “We have one of the nicest, most historically significant courthouses in the state of Mississippi,” Mixon said. “That is something to take some pride in, but there is another side to the story.”
Mixon explained to the supervisors about some of the issues and challenges that his county had faced during and after the rebuild. “The biggest issues we have is the tremendous costs of keeping a building up that was basically rebuilt to the standards and specifications of a 100-year old building,” Mixon said.
Mixon explained to the supervisors that if they choose to restore the old building, that they may face current federal regulations that may not allow them to perform a complete historic restoration. District 4 Supervisor Paul Crowley asked Mixon what types of issues were occurring with the building at this point in time after the restoration.
“After doing an accurate restoration back to a 100-year old building, you are going to find out that in many instances, the building is just obsolete from what you want to do with it,” Mixon said. “We have issues with wiring, and sometimes we have huge cracks in plaster in some walls.”
Mixon went on to explain that one of the biggest issues Perry County faces is that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History limits most of the decision-making process by the county and its representatives. Mixon recalled how most repairs that are done to the courthouse have to be done through the MDAH. Also, Mixon recalled that during the restoration process, the county had little say in any of the process.
Mixon made other points regarding a complete restoration, such as the fact that with the building being built to original specifications, they have issues of space still. Also, under complete historic restoration, they cannot add space directly to the structure.
Cummings asked Mixon if he and the other Perry County supervisors could vote again on how to handle the burning of their courthouse, what they would do. Mixon stated that the vote would be 5-0 voting in favor to build an entirely new courthouse. Cummings and the rest of the board members thanked Mixon for his time and ended the call.
The board was then addressed by Eupora Mayor Dan Burchfield, who gave the members a brief economic development update.
After his update, Burchfield asked for the support of the board in approving a resolution to ask the state Legislature to honor the late Keith Crenshaw by naming a portion of U.S. 82 the “Keith Crenshaw Memorial Highway.” The board unanimously approved a motion to do so.
The section of the highway is between the west and east intersections of Mississippi 182. Crenshaw, who was a Eupora police officer, was killed in the line of duty in October.
Webster County 911 Director Jimmy McLemore then addressed the board members. He told the supervisors that the system computer for the 911 service was having issues and was possibly close to being nonfunctional.
McLemore stated that Plymouth Tube IT Administrator Richard Love had taken a look at the computer to see if there was any hope of it being repaired. Unfortunately, the computer was too far gone to be repaired, and McLemore worried that replacing the computer would cost hundreds of dollars, putting a serious strain on the department’s budget.
What McLemore did not know is that Love had explained the department’s situation to his coworkers at Plymouth Tube. They decided to donate a new computer to the 911 Center, as well as have Love update the system for it to meet the most up-to-date specifications needed by the department.
The supervisors recognized and thanked Plymouth Tube for the generous donation, as well as thanking McLemore for the improvement in the 911 service for the county. Cummings stated that they had not received any calls recently about the service, and commended McLemore on the department’s progress.
In other news, the board:
• Approved Webster County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Livingston’s attendance at the Mississippi Delta Law Enforcement Training Academy in Moorhead, and to pay the tuition and expenses ($3,000) and be reimbursed as necessary.
• Approved acceptance of a Calhoun County police car for $1, and to place it on the county inventory and direct the clerk to issue a special check.
• Discussed completing repairs on Doss Building for housing of voting machines and office for the county election commission.
The Webster County Board of Supervisors recessed until Dec. 31.