by Brian Jones
During their March 8 meeting, the West Point Board of Selectmen discussed redistricting, heard a request for a town hall meeting and briefly discussed the town’s tennis facilities and flood plain management.
Lydia Quarles, who represented the John Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, offered the selectmen help with redistricting.
“We must look at redistricting after each census,” explained Mayor Scott Ross. “We have the new numbers, and prior to the next election, which will be 2013, we need to consider our options for redistricting.”
“We propose to come to you at a working meeting and throw the numbers from the districts up on the board,” Quarles said. “The computer programs now are so much better than what we had last time, it’s just phenomenal. We can be here with you and you can draw your own lines and we can see how the population shifts. If you are involved in doing it yourself then you have buy-in, and it’s much better than someone coming in and telling you what to do. You know your city better than somebody from out of town.”
Quarles estimated that redistricting could be accomplished in a three-hour meeting.
“I think the longest meeting we’ve had in other communities has been about three and a half hours,” she said. “That was for a county. I don’t think West Point would take that long. The task is somewhat onerous, but it’s really not that bad when you’re able to see how the population shifts.”
The suggested price is $4,200, she said.
“This is probably one of the most important things you do as aldermen,” she said. “It’ll affect the city for the next 10 years. Fortunately you have time to do this. The counties are in tough shape because the deadline to qualify was March 1 and we only got the numbers the second week in February.”
“Do you have any scenarios that will deal with annexation?” asked Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman.
“We can provide you with suggestions,” she said. “We would prefer to take your current districts and work with that.”
The Institute will also help the city go through all the bureaucratic and legal hoops with the Department of Justice and the Secretary of State’s office, she said.
The board took no action.
During the public appearances section of the meeting West Point citizen Bill Porter asked the board to schedule a town hall-style meeting.
“When the citizens of West Point elected you, they put the future of West Point in your hands,” he said. “I’m here to ask you to give us a report in a formal town hall meeting as to the direction that you’re taking West Point in. You wouldn’t invest your money in a financial institution and not receive some kind of progress report. The president gives a State of the Union, the governor gives a State of the State. We’d like to have a report from you in a town hall format so that the citizens will be able to ask questions. Seems like the only time we get together is at meetings like this, where citizens can’t really ask their questions.”
“I think that’s a valid request, and we will work toward that,” Ross said.
Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon agreed that the idea was a good one.
“I have had citizens ask me the very same thing,” Cannon said. “They ask me about the financial situation of the city and where we are compared to where we started. I don’t think a lot of citizens know that when we took this position the city had a nearly $1 million deficit, and I don’t think it’s being reported where we stand now. They need to understand that they’ve got five selectmen up here who actually have brought the city from the deficit it was in to where it is right now.”
Later in the meeting, Cannon asked that the city look into improvements at the tennis courts. The discussion began when Cannon asked Recreation Department Director James Crowley if there was any competitive tennis going on at the city courts.
“The high school tennis…are they playing, uh, are they playing competition tennis on that court?” Cannon asked.
“Yes, sir,” Crowley responded. “They’ve got three or four more home games here. It’s something that we’re looking at.”
“The reason I ask is that I was out there not too long ago and I saw things that I want to discuss with the board,” Cannon said. “If they’re going to play competitive tennis out there, I think the board needs to look at some things that are perhaps, is perhaps a hazard.”
“They are definitely playing out there,” Crowley said. “It really looks like we have growing numbers out there in that program.”
“Mayor, if there’s any way possible I’d like a meeting to be set up for the board to talk about this,” Cannon said.
“I think it would be good if we could take the whole board for a meeting at the tennis court,” Ross said. “We need to let everybody see what you are talking about. We’ve known that it’s a serious problem for some time. It may be unsafe, and it certainly looks bad for us when people come from out of town to play there.”
“How much revenue do the tennis courts generate?” Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins asked.
“We tried to work some camps last year, but with the condition of the courts the people who were going to run the camps didn’t think it would be worth it,” Crowley responded. “There’s a possibility there for revenue, but until we improve the courts it’s really hard to request anything go on out there.”
“The condition of those courts it just embarrassing,” Ross said.
No action was taken.
[The tennis court issue caused much controversy in 2008, when it was presented as part of a potential bond issue. The original $3.3 million proposal was split between money for paving and money for recreation; part of Mr. Ross’s original recreation plan included buying the Hawkins Trailer Park and using the land as the site for a new tennis complex. Public outcry caused the mayor to withdraw that part of the plan, and he submitted a pared-down $2.95 million proposal that called for new tennis courts to be built on the current site. The mayor’s recreation plan was eventually scrapped after much public debate, and the bond proceeded with only the paving component. – Brian Jones]
Cannon also asked Interim Police Chief Bobby Lane whether the police department has begun interviewing candidates wishing to become auxiliary police officers.
“The problem that we’re running into is that people want a full-time job,” Lane said. “Auxiliary is usually a part-time position, and auxiliary officers also do not generally receive any pay.”
City Administrator Randy Jones asked the board to review new flood plain maps, and to consider participating in a community rating program to lower flood insurance rates.
Jones, who is also county flood plain administrator, has also urged the Clay County Board of Supervisors to participate in the rating system.
“We are required to adopt the new rate maps by May 3 if we want to continue to participate in the federal flood insurance program,” Jones said. “Because we participate in the program now, we enjoy a roughly 90% premium reduction. If someone’s got a $100,000 home in a flood hazard area, right now they are probably paying $800 to $1,000 a year in premiums. Without the federal program they’d be buying insurance on the open market, and they’d be paying about $8,000 a year.
“Another piece of this puzzle is the community rating system,” Jones said. “It’s very similar to the rating system for fire protection. The more participation we put in the better. If we put more effort into enforcement and mitigation, it will bring our rating down. For every class rating we come down there’s a 5% reduction in the insurance premium. Right now we are a class 10, and I think if we want to go in that direction we could get down to a class 8.”
No action was taken.
The board went into executive session to discuss personnel issues at the request of Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman. The board was behind closed doors for about 10 minutes; when they returned to open session Ross announced that no action was taken.