At issue in the hearing was the process of listening to discussion from those receiving county funding, such as East Mississippi Community College President Dr. Rick Young.
“I come to you today because of my failure,” Dr. Young told the supes. “My failure is this…as we do what we do in this particular area, part of what we do is to keep people informed. The issue that I’m addressing today is the special levy for construction that was levied 10 years ago for construction through EMCC. As I look at that and know that you guys are in a situation where you’re dealing with a deficit budget, and you have hard decisions to make, my failure has been to not communicate to you what we do and what our true needs are.”
“A community college has many, many service areas. The vehicle that carries everything is our career tech academic programs and the other is our support services. Now we’re well known at EMCC for our workforce training and what we do in that particular area. We’re recognized as being one of the best around…maybe even in the Southeast or maybe even in the entire U.S. But I think where I have failed is in this regard. I think there is an assumption of…that is most of what we do…workforce training.”
“It goes back, and the commitment to workforce training is a commitment made by an individual president of a college. Back in the early 90’s, Charleigh Ford and I talked long and hard about doing things to help grow the economy in our area. That’s where the Center For Manufacturing Technology Excellence (CMTE) was rooted. And it was rooted with opposition. At that time, Ronnie Musgrove was Lt. Gov. and he was against it. Former Speaker of the House Tim Ford was against it. Even my boss was not supportive of it. But…we knew and Charleigh and I knew that this was a commitment we needed to make…so we did. We established the CMTE and it has become a model for the rest of the state.”
“Our commitment to workforce has resulted in our college having about 30,000 square feet dedicated to workforce training and development. A staff of at least 15 people. A payroll of half a million dollars, just for workforce training. Now, that takes away from many other areas that we also are responsible for delivering at our college. And if you look at other colleges over the state, the president’s have not made that commitment.”
“My commitment has and always will be workforce training” Young added.
Young went on to tell the supervisors that the state Legislature budgets money for workforce training and the college delivers it. But getting back to the special levy, Young told the board that EMCC has reached a point where finding resources for the school has reached its capacity. He said that money they receive from the counties is put back into renovations, repairs,etc..
And he said that EMCC is out of space at their campus. For the school to grow, they must look elsewhere (which is the reason for the recent interest in the Columbus Country Club (CCC) property, he said). Young also pointed out that the idea of purchasing the CCC building and property was a “no-brainer”. At a cost of $1.8 million, he said construction of a building alone (similar to the 20,000 sq. ft building already existing on the CCC property) would have been $2 million…and the $1.8 million purchase would have included over 100 acres in the heart of Columbus.
Young went on to stress the need for continued county funding, especially from Lowndes. He said he realized that EMCC receives lots of money from Lowndes County…but reminded the supes that the college puts the money back into the local economy, not only in economic dollars, but “the most precious resource that we have, and that’s in our people”.
Young went on to basically pitch for the entire .43 mills funding for EMCC. After his presentation, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks responded, “I have a couple of comments.”
“I talked to Dr. Young yesterday…as well as a couple of his staff members. And I’ve already voiced this to Ralph. I’m willing to look at some reasonable compromise. I’m not right-off-the-bat willing to say we can commit the total .43 mills because, at the same time we do have to be responsible in trying to handle our budget. I would be in support of a substantial amount, whatever that is. With a commitment that perhaps as times get better…and I don’t want to be presumptous to say that till after November I’ll be here, I won’t speak in that sense, but…perhaps as times get better, board members can go back and make adjustments as needed. I think one of the hardest things that I’ve seen during my tenure on the board is…a lot of times when you take someone completely off of the milk bottle, it’s hard to put them back on there.”
“I think we need to keep part of that on there. And as time passes and projects come to play that we evaluate year by year, I would like to think that the economy is going to get better at some point, then we can go back and revisit it. I’m not for taking it all off at the same time…I’m not for giving it all. I do want to minimize our deficit as much as possible.”
“Dr. Young, as I told you yesterday…I’m not for giving the total .43 mills, but I am for supporting some amount…and perhaps as time gets better, we can revisit it.”
Harry Sanders told Dr. Young that the $225,000 annually that the county had been giving EMCC for the past 10 years was to pay off a note that was committed to EMCC at that time. He said that the note had been paid off and Sanders said he saw no reason to continue to give the money. Sanders said he likened that analogy to paying a 5-year vehicle note to pay off his son’s car, but that after the note is paid, he would quit giving his son that amount to pay the note.
Sanders reiterated he was in support of EMCC and what they do. But he was against giving money to something that wasn’t a specific cause…and just padding the EMCC general fund.
Dr, Young countered that the 6 mills funding he was looking for out of all of the counties served by EMCC was to continue to allow EMCC to grow.
District 3 Supervisor John Holliman told Dr. Young that if he came back next year with a project (provided he survived November), he’d be in favor of revisiting funding issues or supporting a particular project. Holliman pointed out that this year, however, the board faced a great budget deficit because of the closing of Domtar. “Had Domtar not closed, we probably could have provided more funds this year” offered Holliman. “I’ll do anything I can…to keep it (EMCC) a viable school.”
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, who defeated his 2 opponents in August to win re-election to the board for 4 more years, told Dr. Young, “You know I’m on your team. And I AM coming back next year.”
“It’ll be difficult to give you the money today” said Smith.
After more back and forth from the supes, Leroy Brooks asked that the board at least commit $10,000 to EMCC. “Let’s at least put something on the books” said Brooks.
Mike Smith also spoke to the board about the budget (Smith is an independent opponent for the District 3 supervisor seat now held by Holliman). “I have a couple of questions I’d like to find out…as a taxpayer. On revenues, I see ya’ll used ya’ll’s authority to raise the user fee for the tv cable. Mine went up about $4 a month. And I’m asking where the, I think it’s $200,000 ya’ll got for that…where is it at in the budget, where did you use it at?”
Both Sanders and Billingsley answered “in the general fund” at the same time. “All $200,000 went into the general fund?” asked Smith again.
“We’ve only collected 2 months and we don’t know exactly how much it’s gonna be at this time” said Billingsley. “If you annualize the 2 months that we’ve got it comes to $203,000, but there’ll be some variations in them…but we’ve budgeted to the revenue of $175,000. Because we don’t know exactly how much the total will be. So, in the general fund, we’ve budgeted $175,000.”
Sanders later made a motion to include $25,000 to give to EMCC, earmarked to building an entrance to the college. Brooks seconded and the board unanimously approved.
A motion was made to accept the 2012 budget as amended, and it was approved. The board then took a short 5 minute recess.
After returning, a motion was made setting the county millage at 38.01. EMCC at 2.00 mills (and decided to take the $25,000 approved earlier out of the general fund). the county schools millage rate was set at 47.76 mills. For a total millage (combined) of 87.77 mills. The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.
The board then discussed whether sheriff candidate Anthony Nelson, a county board head as the director of the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center, might be in violation of the federal Hatch Act. (The discussion of this subject will be covered in Ron Williams’ column elsewhere in this edition of The Packet)
The board then adjourned until the next scheduled board meeting.