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City finds way past red tape

For many years, the city of Oxford and Lafayette County have contributed funds to the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation through the Local and Private Committee in the state legislature.

However, this year House Speaker Philip Gunn apparently killed the bills in the committee before they could go for a vote before House and Senate representatives. The EDF could have faced a loss of more than $300,000 in support from the city and county.

City attorneys worked with EDF President Jon Maynard and found a way around needing the funds from legislation, and on Tuesday, the Oxford Board of Aldermen approved a resolution to give EDF its yearly $75,000 contribution.

“We can’t do what we do without the city and county’s support,” Maynard said.

Finding solution

A state statue was found that allows municipal governments to execute contracts and appropriations to local economic development organizations and Main Street programs, according to city attorney Pope Mallette.

“This is actually a more direct way than doing it through a Local and Private,” Mallette said.

Maynard said he isn’t exactly sure why the city and county have always went for the Local and Private to be able to contribute to the EDF, other than it’s how it had always been done.

Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, said he believes Gunn killed the bill before the Local and Private Committee because Gunn didn’t like Hughes’ candidness about issues in Jackson.

“The Speaker formally killed these bills in the committee because I spoke out about what was happening down here in the people’s capitol,” Hughes said. “This type of retaliation and silencing of free speech is so contrary to my core beliefs about democracy and transparency … Fortunately, the attorneys found a way to still allow the funding to occur.”

Gunn did not respond to questions as of Thursday afternoon as to why he killed the two Local and Private legislations from Oxford and Lafayette County.

County working on plan

While the city found a way around the red tape, Lafayette County’s attorney, David O’Donnell, is still trying to work on a plan for the county, which grants the EDF up to $250,000 each year. The state statue allowing the city to give EDF funds is only applicable to city governments.

“The county doesn’t give them that much each year, but they put it aside in case an economic development project comes up that needs funds,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said he is seeking an opinion from Attorney General Jim Hood as to whether the county can grant appropriations to the EDF through its existing Lafayette County Economic Development District.

“I believe through the district, we should be able to grant funds to EDF and any organization that supports economic development,” O’Donnell said. “But we’re asking for the AG’s opinion to make sure.”

The district owns land in the Lafayette County Max Hipp Industrial Park and leases it to Winchester.

O’Donnell has been the county attorney for 13 years and said he can’t remember a time when the bills were killed in the House.

EDF grateful

The EDF staff facilitates visits to town by industry executives acting as hosts to show off potential business sights and provide a thorough tour of the area. When industries show interest, EDF’s job is to work with those executives and local and state governments to clear the way of any obstacles to sealing a deal. EDF also works on a regional level with area counterparts to attract business and industry. EDF continues to service existing industries by maintaining close contact and helping them with any local or state issues affecting their local operations.

Maynard said he’s grateful to the city and county for working hard to find an alternate path to supporting the EDF.

“These funds are absolutely vital,” he said. “They are our operating and marketing dollars. They provide us with the ability to work on projects, make sure the staff is professionally trained.”