New plan in works for wildlife office

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lincoln County supervisors are preparing a renovation plan forthe building used by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife,Fisheries and Parks that they hope will convince the state agencyto remain in Brookhaven and split its District Five office spacewith the county tax office.

The plan calls for MDWF&P to relinquish the front offices ofthe county-owned building at 304 South Second St. to the LincolnCounty Tax Assessor’s Office and move into the rear half of thebuilding, an approximately 2,300 square-foot space that will bevacated within one month after the Lincoln County Jail’s kitchen ismoved out. Supervisors also plan to increase the department’s rentfrom $500 to $1,000 per month – an increase of $6,000 annually – tohelp cover the cost of the project.

“Because this will be an expensive endeavor, I feel it would beappropriate to ask (MDWF&P) to pay $1,000 rent to help us paysome of these expenses,” said District Four Supervisor Doug MoakMonday while discussing the renovations at the monthly docketmeeting.

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If MDWF&P agrees to the plan, supervisors would firstrenovate the rear end of the building to fit the department’sneeds. Once renovated, the agency would relocate to make room forrenovations to the front half of the building for the taxoffice.

A county tax assessor’s office representative is expected tomeet with wildlife department officials and begin taking thebuilding’s measurements for a presentation to supervisors at nextMonday’s board meeting.

MDWF&P first announced its intentions to relocate itsDistrict Five headquarters to Percy Quin State Park in McComb inJanuary, immediately after county supervisors decided not to extendthe department’s lease on the county-owned building.

Since then, county residents and especially local businessowners have decried the decision, saying the loss of the agencywould cost the community in tax revenue, stature and lawenforcement presence. More than 1,000 county residents have signeda petition urging the board to reconsider its decision, accordingto petition author Dave Pace.

But supervisors maintain they did only what was best for LincolnCounty, pointing out the tax office has grown beyond its currentavailable space in the Lincoln County-Brookhaven GovernmentComplex. Supervisors also tried to help MDWF&P stay inBrookhaven by offering the use of other county-owned buildings -such as old Keystone manufacturing building on Industrial ParkRoad, which the department turned down – with similar pledges ofrenovation.

Supervisors hinted Monday the plan would be their last effort toconvince MDWF&P to remain in Brookhaven.

“I think we’ve been very generous to them over the years,” Moaksaid.

Supervisors cut the department’s rent by more than half in 2000when, at the request of then-Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, they lowered themonthly cost from $1,300 to $500. The county continues to payutility costs on the building.

Supervisors have no estimate of the proposed renovation’s cost,but plans called for the building to undergo renovations for thetax office whether MDWF&P stayed or left.

“If (MDWF&P) wants to stay in Lincoln County, we’re going tomove them to the back and renovate,” said County AdministratorDavid Fields. “But it may be a moot point if they’re not going tostay.”

MDWF&P Spokesman Jim Walker refused to comment onsupervisors’ new plan. He said the agency would remain on a courseto relocate to Percy Quin until a formal proposal is submitted bysupervisors.

“Once a vote is taken and that proposal hits our desk, we’llmove on it quick,” he said. “The sooner we get it, the sooner wecan consider it.”

Walker said MDWF&P has not yet begun renovating its newoffices in Percy Quin and would not do so until it is “absolutely,positively ready to move.” The department will have three monthlycommission meetings before its lease on the county-owned buildingis up in September, he said, indicating time to reach a compromisewith supervisors.

“It won’t take long,” he said about Percy Quin buildingrenovations. “We anticipate it won’t take two weeks to get thatbuilding up to speed and the cost would be minimal. We’ve gottime.”