Wildlife office ouster in need of reconsideration

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 11, 2009

Regardless of the kind of possession, holding on to what one has- rather than tossing it aside for something that simply appearsbetter – is often a wise and prudent course of action.

When it comes to the District Five office of the MississippiDepartment of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Lincoln Countysupervisors have made a hasty and ill-advised decision to forcewildlife personnel out of the county-owned building on South SecondStreet. Wildlife officials have leased the space for approximately12 years, but supervisors say they now want the space for expansionof the county tax office and storage needs.

Wildlife officials were surprised in January when supervisorsvoted to not renew the state agency’s lease on the building.

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“We didn’t want to leave,” said DWF&P Southern RegionAdministrator Lane Ball during last week’s Brookhaven Kiwanis Clubmeeting.

The initial deadline for the office to move was June 30, butsupervisors were persuaded to grant a three-month extension untilthe end of September. Perhaps supervisors could be furtherpersuaded to reconsider their initial decision, renew the agency’slease and allow the district office to stay here.

Otherwise, supervisors’ decision to make the wildlife officeleave is troubling and perplexing for a number of reasons.

First, despite statements by Board President the Rev. JerryWilson and others regarding space needs, supervisors appear to haveno immediate ability to make use of the building. Tax AssessorNancy Jordan, the supposed primary recipient of the extra space,estimated in March it could be a year before her office makes themove.

County officials said the building is “dated,” but they have notseen plans for needed renovations and do not have any estimates forhow much those improvements will cost. Officials were apparentlyunsuccessful in securing federal funding assistance for thework.

Furthermore, records storage has been mentioned as a benefit ofthe extra space. Surely, supervisors do not need to run off a stateagency just to have room to store some county records!

This weekend, the Brookhaven Police Department was scheduled tomove out of its offices in the Law Enforcement Complex to its newhome on Highway 51. While the county sheriff’s department willlikely want to utilize some of the former BPD space, remaining roomcould serve as a storage option.

Second, for the people Lincoln County supervisors are supposedto represent, there is a convenience factor to consider. Localoutdoor enthusiasts needing to register their boats, take someeducational classes or just get information about various DWF&Pactivities may have to travel elsewhere for those services.

Which brings up another factor in this discussion.

Ball said Pike County supervisors were eager to help wildlifeofficials find a new location for their district office onceLincoln County supervisors voted to run them out. Wildlifeofficials are expecting to relocate to the old lodge in Percy QuinState Park, a move that will first require renovations to thebuilding in Pike County.

With the district office employing about six people and localbusinesses providing various services for agency vehicles and otherneeds, the economic impact of the loss for Lincoln County is notinsignificant. In these tough economic times, the county turningits back on those jobs and local business benefits isunconscionable.

There, too, is a prestige factor associated with having a stateagency’s district office in one’s county. With supervisors’decision, that will be a feather that has been plucked out ofLincoln County’s cap and sent somewhere else.

Wildlife officials are in the process of preparing to move, butit was suggested that they are open to staying in Lincoln County ifsupervisors were to reconsider their decision.

That decision rests with supervisors. Their constituents need tolet board members know their feelings about the need to hold on toa valuable asset for Lincoln County.