A deal for County, MDOT?

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lafayette County officials and the Mississippi Department of Transportation are moving closer to an agreement on the purchase of county-owned property as part of the widening of Highway 7.

Board of Supervisors president Jeff Busby said Friday “the ball is in MDOT’s court.”

“We’re still in negotiations,” Busby said. “They have given us an offer and we have responded back and have not gotten a response back from them. We have a preliminary agreement, but nothing to this point has been signed. I don’t expect there to be, on our end anyway, any hang ups or hold ups.”

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The two sides have been in negotiations for about four years regarding the site.

MDOT is looking to purchase the property where several county offices are currently located, including the driver’s license office, the extension office and health department. Several county agencies will be relocated on property the county purchased on County Road 406 near Highway 6.

“When we bought the land, the reason we bought it was in anticipation of what MDOT would acquire from the county and to relocate these facilities in an area that is accessible for all the citizens of Lafayette County,” Busby said.

What may be relocated

A multi-purpose facility and Justice Court may also be located on the new site, but that will not be determined until an agreement is reached with MDOT on the sale of the current property and how much the county can afford.

“Until we know how much money we’re going to bring in, we’re not sure what we can build,” Busby said.

Busby said he’s not about to put the cart in front of the horse regarding what county offices will be located at the new site until the supervisors know how much they can afford for a new facility.

“When we took office, one of our main goals was to be good stewards of the county’s money and until we know how much revenue we have coming in we’re not committing to building buildings and raising taxes for these buildings,” Busby said.

Health department hold up

A main sticking point in the negotiations has been whether or not MDOT was going to purchase the entire county health department or just a portion of the building. County officials would prefer MDOT take the entire building.

County officials put out bids to have the timber cleared on the property, which is near Lafayette County High School on CR 406, but the company selected to do the timber work didn’t have a firm timetable when the work would be complete.

“We want the work done when school is out and not in the winter when county roads could be torn up,” Busby said. “That’s just not going to work with log trucks coming and going during school time. The safety of our children comes first. I’m not sure at this point if we’re going to re-bid that, but I’m sure we’ll talk about it in the next few meetings.”

Busby said he’d like to see the land clearing done soon, even if it means working on weekends, so that the infrastructure will be in place when they determine which buildings will be relocated to the site.

Comp plan a factor

The development of the current comprehensive plan must also be considered and how the relocation of these offices fits into that puzzle. Mike Slaughter, the professional planner hired by the county to develop the comprehensive plan, has also expressed interest in what county offices will be relocated to the new site and which may stay at their current location.

The county will also have to secure professional services to design the buildings at the new site. The supervisors recently met with Three Rivers Planning and Development District to discuss preliminary plans for the new location of the county offices. Busby said no decisions were made, but he is eager to get the ball rolling.

“We need to move forward and have the pieces in place to move forward with the buildings once MDOT makes a decision,” Busby said.