Wildlife office appears gone as negotiations fail

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’District Five office appears to be finally set to leave Brookhaventhis fall after negotiations between the department and LincolnCounty supervisors broke down Tuesday, with each side rejecting theother’s proposals for the office’s future.

The office, which serves as the nerve center for all MDWF&Poperations in 12 Southwest Mississippi counties, will likelyrelocate to Percy Quin State Park in McComb this fall after itslease on the county-owned building at 304 South Second St. expiresSept. 30. The department plans to move into the lodge at PercyQuin, a department-owned building that is spacious andrent-free.

The District Five office first opened in Brookhaven in 1996.

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After voting in January to let MDWF&P’s lease on thebuilding expire to make room for the expanding Lincoln County TaxAssessor’s Office, supervisors granted a 90-day extension from Juneto September.

Facing public pressure to reconsider their decision in June,supervisors proposed renovate the building for both offices bycutting the department’s space in half and doubling its rent from$500 to $1,000 per month in a one-year lease to help coverrenovation costs. Supervisors said the building would be renovatedfor the tax office regardless of MDWF&P’s response.

In a letter to the board Tuesday, MDWF&P Director ofWildlife, Fisheries and Law Enforcement’s Don Brazil rejected therenovation plan, saying the reduced office space would violaterequirements set by the Bureau of Buildings, Grounds and RealProperty Management of the Mississippi Department of Finance andAdministration. DFA is responsible for leases on non-state-ownedproperty.

Instead, Brazil called for a five-year lease at $500 per monthand refused to surrender the front half of the building, arequirement that effectively closed the door on supervisors’ planto relocate the tax office.

“We want exactly what we’ve got today or we’re going to considerother options,” Brazil said when contacted Wednesday.

Though MDWF&P officials have previously said they werecommitted to moving the District Five office to Percy Quin if itsBrookhaven space was lost, Brazil said the department isconsidering several other options for relocation. He said none ofthe potential locations are in Brookhaven.

“We presented (supervisors) with what we needed and they’vedeclined it,” he said.

Supervisors rejected MDWF&P’s new requirements by a vote of3-2, with District Three Supervisor Nolan Williamson, District FourSupervisor Doug Moak and District Five Supervisor Gary Walkervoting against a five-year lease. Board president the Rev. JerryWilson and District Two Supervisor Bobby Watts voted not so much infavor of the lease, but against the finality of losing the DistrictFive office.

“I don’t think we can, no matter what, maintain the same price,”Moak said. “We cannot carry the same bill we’ve been carrying witha renovation coming up. We’ve tried as hard as I think we can try,so I say let their 90-day extension expire and then we’ll go aboutour business.”

Supervisors said when the renovation plan was first announcedthat it would be their final effort to retain MWDF&P inBrookhaven. They plan to continue gathering information for a costestimate to renovate the building for the tax office after thewildlife department moves out this October.

Watts – the supervisor who first introduced the idea ofrenovating the building for both the wildlife and tax offices -voiced opposition to the planned renovations Tuesday, insteadpleading with his peers to either demolish the building andconstruct a new, two-story structure with room for both agencies oraccept MDWF&P’s demands and build a new tax office fromscratch.

“I feel if we renovate that building, it will be a thorn in oursides for a long, long time,” he said. “It’s hitting 60 years old,and it will be something all the time. Let this be the home for thewildlife commission and build Nancy (Jordan, Lincoln County TaxAssessor/Collector) what she needs.”

County Administrator David Fields said he and county engineerRyan Holmes, of Dungan Engineering, PA, had estimated the cost of anew building to be around $250 per square foot, but Holmes pointedout the city’s developing Jimmy Furlow Senior Citizens Center wasbeing built at around $200 per square foot. Still, the costs ofdemolishing the existing building would add to the total, which islikely to reach above $1 million.

Additionally, the county is landlocked in downtownBrookhaven.

“We’re out of space here, and if we needed to expand we’ll haveto go vertically with our buildings,” Fields said.

Watts clung to his proposal, telling supervisors he was sureMDWF&P would look for a new building for temporary use whileconstruction was carried out, but other supervisors weredoubtful.

“They haven’t tried yet, Bobby,” Moak said.

Supervisors pointed out that MDWF&P turned down their offerof the offices in the massive, old Keystone Seneca wire plant onIndustrial Park Road and again accused the department not doingenough itself to remain in Brookhaven. They were also miffed thatno MDWF&P officials have appeared before the board to negotiatein person since the District Five crisis began. Supervisorsrequested such a representative be present for Tuesday’s meetingthree weeks ago.

“It’s sad,” Walker said. “You offer them a new set of officesand they don’t want to help you.”