MDA retirement panel officials tour, assess town

Published 6:00 am Thursday, February 3, 2005

The program manager and three members of the MississippiDevelopment Authority’s Hometown Retirement Advisory Committeetoured Monticello Wednesday to evaluate the town for inclusion inits exclusive and prestigious program.

Mayor David Nichols led Program Manager Diana O’Toole andcommittee members Kay Burton of Brookhaven, Susan Walker ofHattiesburg and Christy Knapp of Oxford on the evaluation tour.

Inclement weather disrupted many of the proposed stops on thetour, but Nichols fielded questions while informing the visitors ofthe sites.

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The tour was the second phase of a elimination process designedto ensure that only the towns that are best suited for retireeliving are included in the retirement community program.

Only 18 towns and one region have achieved that designation inthe decade since the MDA established the Hometown MississippiRetirement Program in 1994. Brookhaven, McComb and Natchezrepresent southwest Mississippi on the list.

The program was only open to new applicants for a year and hasbeen closed for 10 years. The program was reopened late in 2004 toselect a few more towns for inclusion.

Twenty-six towns applied, O’Toole said. Thirteen were deemed notready for the program and two were eliminated for other reasons.Monticello is competing against 11 other towns for inclusion in theprogram.

“We are determined that this certification be hard to get,” shesaid. “We are holding the cities who are already in the program asaccountable as those who are trying to join.”

Once this year’s selection is complete, the program will againbe closed to new entries for an undetermined amount of time.

Once the selection committee has visited its short list ofapplicants, they will review and compare the towns and make theirtentative selections. Those selections will then be reviewed by MDAexecutives for final approval.

O’Toole said she could not say how many towns would be addedduring the opening period or how well Monticello fared in theevaluation.

However, she said the “tour was great. I just wish the weatherhad been better.”

She expected towns would receive their inclusion or rejectionletters around the end of March.

During the tour, the visitors were shown Atwood Water Park,Lawrence County Hospital, the A.H. Longino home, civic center,senior center, Cooper’s Ferry Park, sportsplex, housingsubdivisions and local industries.

The visitors asked about town and county millage, schools,racial diversity and other non-site related background whiletraveling between stops.

The officials praised Nichols and the town leadership for theirvision in moving the town forward and made positive comments aboutseveral projects being negotiated by the town.

The establishment process on many of those projects are stillearly in the planning stages or negotiations were too delicate tobe released at this time, Nichols said.

After the tour, the MDA officials met with two retiree couplesfor an open session interview. Charles and Merle Bufkin and Ed andNell Melzer fielded questions on a variety subjects as theofficials tried to learn what motivated the retirees to stay ormove into the area and how the town fared with others in providingbasic and special services to the elderly.

Both couples admitted that Monticello has some weaknesses, suchas retail shopping, but were adamant the town is a wonderful placefor retirees. They lauded the people of the town as its strongestasset.

“Dothan, Ala., is a beautiful place, truly beautiful, but itdoesn’t have the Monticello people,” Ed Melzer said when asked whyhe chose to move to Monticello rather than where he had planned toretire to.

The Bufkins agreed. Charles Bufkin said they had planned toretire to Sarasota, Fla., after 26 years in Dallas, but afterreturning to Monticello on a family visit they changed theirminds.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places, but the people here are thegreatest,” Merle Bufkin said.

The couples pointed out that volunteerism in Monticello is high,and retirees often mix socially with residents of all ages whileengaging in charitable causes, which they said was important totheir quality of life.

Regardless of whether Monticello receives the retirementcommunity designation, the town will receive an assessment from theMDA officials on its strengths and weaknesses, O’Toole said.

“I’m looking forward to the assessment,” Nichols said. “Anoutside view looking in is always beneficial.”