Ron Williams

Several reliable Packet sources have confirmed that a deal to build a billion-dollar steel mill in Clay County likely fell through earlier this week after negotiations on utility rates came to an impasse. Local industrial entrepreneur John Correnti was in the initial planning stages of building a steel plant in West Point’s thousand-acre industrial megasite that is nearing completion along Highway 45 Alternate on West Point’s northern city limits. Sources said a meeting occurred earlier this week between Correnti’s group and TVA officials, and that LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins and several area officials were present. Correnti’s group was reportedly offered an electric rate for a potential site in Arkansas from electric giant Entergy and was negotiating with TVA to lower their rate. The rate was reportedly nearly 35% lower than what the Tennessee Valley Authority was able to offer, and negotiations came to an abrupt end with no apparent middle ground in sight.
Another source opined that, while the electric rate was a point of contention, the Mississippi Development Authority possibly didn’t push TVA harder to get a better deal after the state’s rate of return per job exceeded MDA’s traditional expectations. The Correnti project reportedly would have cost the state roughly $100,000 per job created.
The failed deal could put a slight ding in the newly formed partnership between West Point/Clay County and the Columbus Lowndes Development Link. The LINK recently reached a funding deal with West Point and Clay County in which it will receive $350,000 from the two governing bodies in exchange for more focused economic development. A Clay County government official who spoke off the record to The Packet Wednesday night said that the deal is not completely dead yet and that he has full faith in LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins. He noted Higgins’s unparalleled success in Lowndes County, where Higgins has brought the Columbus, Miss., micropolitan from 374th out of 576 in 2004, the first full year after Higgins’ arrival, to 57th in 2011. (A micropolitan consists one or more counties with an urban area between 10,000 and 50,000 residents.) 
“We haven’t given up on Mr. Correnti’s project yet. But we are confident that Joe (Max Higgins) and the LINK have more projects in the pipeline,” the Clay official said. “We’re in much better shape than we have been in some time with him on our side.”
While I’m sure nobody in the Golden Triangle could be excited about losing a giant project such as this, let’s hope TVA can come back to the table quick enough to keep the project headed our way, or that Joe Max will keep the good deals coming.

City Council/Mayor Hash Out Budget Proposal
Council Makes Tough Cuts in Nearly Two Hour Wednesday Meeting

Mayor Robert Smith and the Columbus City Council met Wednesday afternoon at the upstairs courthouse of the Columbus City Hall, trying to cut a $502,000 budget deficit down to within reason. After tough slashing and cutting (similar to the Jim Croce classic song with the lyrics, “And after cutting was done the only part that wasn’t bloody was the sole of the big man’s feet”. RW), coupled with a $2 increase in city garbage collection fees, the mayor and council were able to whittle the deficit down to $232,315, which they will balance out by using cash reserves. Public Works Director Mike Pratt, who had already cut his own budget by $48,000 before the meeting, initially lost a boom truck, but it got put back in in the final tally.
The council reduced the deficit by not cutting funding for Parks and Rec., the Link and E-911. The $10,000 slated for BRAC was also untouched. All other appropriation funding was kept at the 2011 level.
In raising the garbage fee by $2, the mayor and council were able to not raise taxes for the current year. A tax increase for next year may be unavoidable, although.
‘Pay-Per-Ride’ Public Transportation Bus System for Columbus Explored
Great Idea! But Let’s Look at other Possible Companies Out There
No…I won’t be the one to throw a clog in this machine. I think it’s a great idea. But (yes, the proverbial ‘but’)…lets not welcome the first possible company that provides this service with open arms just yet. We should, at least, see if anyone else is out there doing the same thing.
That said, I commend Federal Programs Director Travis Jones and Mayor Robert Smith for exploring the possibilities of bringing affordable public transportation to the city of Columbus (possibly to be expanded to surrounding cities…Starkville, West Point, Macon come to mind. RW). Especially one that would cost the city next to nothing to bring in. According to Jones, in-kind services provided by the city is all that’s needed to secure this sweet deal. That and a letter of support from the mayor and council, which is required for all federal grants, according to Jones. Those federal grants would apparently pay for bringing the service in, paying for buses, equipment, etc. The transit company is actually a non-profit, with fees collected from riders going back into the system itself. A director and administrator would earn $50,000 annually each. Bus drivers would earn $15 bucks an hour, mechanics $23 an hour. According to Jones, 50-75 jobs would be created by the service coming in, with possibly more if expansion becomes necessary.
According to a newspaper report in May of this year that appeared in the Indianapolis Recorder written by Jessica Williams-Gibson. Riders of the Lawrence Transit System buses in Indiana can ride the buses for $2 one way, or purchase a $5 all-day ride ticket. Bus route hours are from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday-Friday. Buses run from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
The benefits are endless. More jobs in and around the city brings more business opportunity. More efficient transportation as well. It all looks great on paper and in real life. But, just for the sake of making sure we do this properly…let’s explore all possibilities and potential transit systems before giving the nod to Lawrence Transit.

 

CVB Met Monday. Allows Media in Boardroom!

After the fiasco of the previous board meeting, the Columbus Conventions and Visitors Bureau Board met Monday for its August meeting. As soon as Packet Senior Reporter Brian Jones and I walked into the room, CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter quickly made her way over to us to let us know we were welcome in the boardroom.

During the meeting itself, though, Board Chairman Dewitt Hicks and board member Whirllie Byrd apologized to the media for the barring of the public and the media from the boardroom during that meeting. But no such public apology came from Carpenter, who probably should have joined-in on the “I’m sorry.”

Also during that meeting, citizen Berry Hinds, a longtime regular citizen-watchdog of the Columbus City Council meetings, asked to speak before the board to ask them to reconsider making funding commitments beyond this year. He also pointed out the need for a printed agenda to allow the public and media to make preparations for upcoming meetings, just as Hinds did by having to ask to be placed on the agenda the day of the meeting. Later, the board addressed those concerns.

Board member George Swales retired and was recognized for his service by Dewitt Hicks and Nancy Carpenter.

 

Mike Smith Reminds Me of his Consolidation Proposal

During the recent controversy in which Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders explored the possibility of consolidating emergency services with the city of Columbus, it never crossed my mind that this matter has been brought to the supervisors boardroom previously.

But former District 3 Supervisor Mike Smith jogged my memory when I ran into him last Thursday at Joe Wayne Langford’s Express Mart Parade at the corner of Gardner Blvd and Highway 50 East. Smith asked me if I remembered that he suggested the supes explore the possibilities of consolidation, at least some services, during his term as supervisor (2004-2008).

“Do you remember that Harry Sanders was completely opposed to the idea of consolidation of services?” asked Smith.

I covered those meetings then for the Commercial Dispatch as a columnist. After Smith mentioned it, I remembered that he was correct.

Sanders constantly reminds us that Leroy Brooks places people in strategic places throughout the county to be his eyes and ears and report back to him. While this is true, Sanders has been guilty of the same thing. That’s why the upcoming board appointment to the CVB board to replace George Swales is as important as ever. While it’s widespread knowledge that Sanders is touting Leon Ellis for the position. Last I heard, Charles Miller was gonna apply for the position but backed out. Why? For my part, Miller would have been an excellent candidate (not that Leon Ellis isn’t. In fact, Ellis would be great for that board. RW). It’s just that we need to stop playing politics on either side of the fence. (And, yes…I realize I might as well be talking to a brick wall. RW)