Opinion: Clay supervisors kept their promise

Steve Rogers
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STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

Even in this age of social media and 24-hour news cycles, politicians still have a bad reputation for secrecy, backroom deals, and favoring special-interest fatcats over the wishes of their constituents.

And sometimes, those stereotypes apply.

But this week, Clay County supervisors got it right.

For well over a year, board members have been working on plans for a new Justice Center to house Circuit and Justice courts.

Anyone who has been to the old Courthouse this week with 140 potential jurors jamming the halls while other citizens try to pay taxes, renew license plates or conduct other business understands the need. If that's not evidence enough, go to Justice Court on a busy docket day and see the crowded conditions, especially in a space that hardly can classify as adequate for a courtroom.

The new $3 million facility, combined with renovations of the existing Courthouse and Justice Court building, will provide adequate -- and modern -- space and facilities for the foreseeable future.

In recent weeks, consultants working with the county have been putting the final touches on costs, construction plans and financing. Monday, they were ready to push the deal through the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors probably could have voted on the deal and moved on. And to a degree, they may have wanted to.

But they didn't. Instead, they allowed time for the details to be disseminated to the public -- the voters and taxpayers who will tote the note. They'll review the financing a final time and barring any significant hiccups, approve it Thursday.

Since concerns about secrecy were raised last fall, the board has taken an open approach. They have promised transparency. They have said on several occasions they planned to put it all out before the public before approving anything.

By not voting Monday -- and they were well within their authority to do so -- they did the right thing.

And they are taking it a step further Thursday.

As part of their promise of transparency and disclosure, they also vowed to make sure plans, bid costs and contractor information were disclosed to the public. Architect Roger Pryor will be at Thursday's meeting to fulfill that promise.

Again, it's not necessary, but it's the right thing to do.

A few may complain. The fact is, they always do.

But consider the financing. First, supervisors have set aside $260,000 in miscellaneous expenses that no longer are needed.

Next year, .25 mill will be available as the county pays off a $230,000 note used to build a new voting precinct on Brame Avenue three years ago. That amounts to $2.50 a year in taxes on a $100,000 home.

Supervisors plan to apply that small amount to the Justice Center costs. And if nothing else changes and the county doesn't grow at all, 18 months from now, another .1 of a mill will be needed and another .1 mill the year after that. That's a total of $2 a year in taxes on a $100,000 home.

If the county's property values grow a measly 3 percent during the next year or two, those taxes likely won't be needed.

But let's assume that growth doesn't happen and the tax allocations are needed.

The .25 mill generates just under $32,000 a year in revenue. The .1 mill will add just under $13,000.

Yes, that could be allocated to roads or somewhere else. It could be rolled off the tax rate to provide property owners a small break on the county's 50.22 mill rate.

Or, as the supervisors have decided, it could wisely be invested in a long-term county need, a project that will improve safety and make more efficient use of taxpayer dollars. It also will be a source of pride for years to come. That's something on which you can't put a dollar value.

That's the right thing to do.

WE'LL MISS HIS 'JUICE'

Everyone knew it was coming, they just hoped it would be sometime in the future. Monday, the Senate's most-esteemed member, Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, said he is stepping down April 1, well before many had hoped.

It certainly will shake up the state's political landscape with State Sen. Chris McDaniel leading a potential domino effect across the state. That would be especially true if by chance Gov. Phil Bryant appoints himself to Cochran's seat and runs for the seat in November's special election.

In any case, Cochran's seat may prompt some existing statewide officeholders to run for rather than trying to climb the ladder in state government.

It also could, even if remotely, open a door to a Democrat such Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley or even Attorney General Jim Hood, either of whom might give some thought to the Senate rather than governor next year. If they lose the special election in November, they still could run for governor.

But all that interest aside, the biggest news remains Cochran's decision. It's enough that he was recognized as a gentleman who worked across party lines and seldom tried to grab the spotlight, credit or attention.

In this era, those attributes alone are significant and harder and harder to find.

And Cochran had almost unparalleled influence, "juice" as it is called on the street. That's critical in any state but in a poor state like Mississippi, it's darn near mandatory.

He accrued that status through seniority, a gentlemanly,straightforward, honest approach, and a willingness to compromise.

It paid off in billions of dollars funneled back to the state in grants, loans and old-fashioned pork earmarks.

Even since the arch-fiscal conservatives tried to eliminate earmarks, Cochran still has used his sway to "guide" some money back home.

For instance, if you are grant reviewer at the USDA and a first-term senator from Georgia calls and Cochran calls, both wanting the same $200,000, you are more likely to side with Cochran simply because you know and respect him and what he stands for, even if Georgia might have more votes.

The Senate and Congress will miss Thad Cochran's heart. No matter who we elect to fill his seat, it will take years to replace his influence. In practical terms, that's what we'll all miss the most.

Steve Rogers is the news reporter for the Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper or its staff.

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