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CVB Bill In Jeopardy

by Ron Williams

There appears to be some local meddling into the CVB bill that was sent to the Mississippi Legislature a while back. I reported last week that Representative Gary Chism introduced the bill and it had passed the House. Chism sent it to (double-refered) Ways & Means and then to the Senate Finance Sub-Committee on Local/Private, chaired by District 7 State Senator Hob Bryan of Amory. Before I go any further on the events of this week involving the bill, let’s review how and why the bill got sent to the Legislature to start with.

It all started months ago (last year as a matter of fact) when the CVB board seem to be waffling on the 15% that the LINK has always received from the the 2% added sales tax that high-volume restaurants collect, which is the revenue that the CVB uses to fund various tourism events, festivals, etc. It was later discovered that the CVB board had been operating illegaly with it’s 8-member board because state law had mandated it only have a six-member board. A committee was formed by the Board of Supervisors and the Columbus City Council that never came to any agreement except that the two entities abandon it’s current appointees and re-appoint 3 CVB board members from each entity (board of supes and city council). And so they did.

In the meantime the supervisors and council unanimously decided to seek legislation to introduce a bill for a new local/private agreement that would expand the current 6 member board to 9 as well as a stipulation saying the revenue from the 2% sales tax could be used by the CVB board to fund economic development, special events, tourism and recreation. That is the bill that passed the House last week, got double-refered to Ways & Means and then to the Senate Finance Sub-Committee chaired by Bryan.

In Bryan’s committee is where the bill ran into a snag. Bryan apparently stripped the language refering to ‘economic development’ and ‘special events’ leaving the money only to be used for ‘tourism’ and ‘recreation’. That is the way Bryan sent the bill back to the House, which rejected it (because it was not the bill, anymore, that was originally introduced by Chism).

I spoke with Senator Terry Brown Tuesday night by phone and asked him what happened. Brown said that Bryan had been ‘stripping’ other local/private bills being sent to his committee that used language involving ‘economic development’ because these CVB’s around the state had been set up to use the revenue for “tourism and recreation, and that’s all”. (My argument is that the Board of Supervisors and Columbus City Council had agreed unanimously on the legislation they were seeking, including the wording of using the money for ‘economic development’ and ‘special events’. In other words, they were in full agreement on these issues, so why would Hob Bryan be opposed to that? Senator Bryan’s district does not include any of Lowndes County, by the way. It just doesn’t make sense. The only thing one could conclude is that Bryan has his stinger out for someone involved. RW)

I understand that LINK Director Joe Higgins spoke with Senator Bryan on Tuesday, relaying to him that if the LINK doesn’t receive it’s 15% share of the annual tax revenue (the amount varies, this year it was around $170,000) he would likely have to lay some people off. Bryan reportedly told Higgins that this could likely be worked out. So, Wednesday, the bill was re-introduced (or looked at again by Bryan’s committee). As of Wednesday night it’s fate is still not known as it will be discussed in committee again on Thursday (I’m hearing that Bryan still opposes the ‘economic development’ wording.

In the past, it was no secret that CVB board member Dewitt Hicks has clashed with Link Director Joe Higgins. I heard much discussion around Columbus on Tuesday and Wednesday suggesting there was a link between the riff and the current standoff in Jackson on the ‘economic development’ wording. We need to move on and quit playing with this fire before someone gets burned. I urge everyone to think about the overall consequences if this mess continues to fester. This is not the kind of political playing that can yield good results for our overall economic picture in Lowndes County, especially in this time of trying to dig our way out of a recession. Jeff Smith Announces He’s Running for House Speaker

State Representative Jeff Smith announced on statewide radio (Supertalk Mississippi WKBB, 100.9 FM, West Point) on the Paul Gallo show that he intends to seek the House Speaker position. Smith has been a Democrat, but will likely switch to an independent. Representative Sid Bondurant, R- Grenada, has also announced that he’ll seek the Speaker position.

Smith and Bondurant are friends. “One of us will be the next Speaker of the House”, said Smith. Lowndes Redistricting Publc Hearing Set For Monday

A public hearing on the redistricting plan submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for approval for Lowndes County supervisors districts, as well as justice court and constable districts, will be held in the downstairs courtroom of the Lowndes County Courthouse Monday, April 4th at 11 a.m. Prior to the public hearing on redistricting, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors will hold their first of the month scheduled meeting at 9 a.m.  Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com

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