DeSoto County supervisors have a lengthy list of items they would like to see done in the Mississippi State Legislature in the 2020 session that begins next month.
Monday, Dec. 2, during the supervisors’ regularly scheduled meeting, they were joined by several area legislators and legislators-elect, to talk about the county’s priorities for the coming year.
The goal of the discussion was to continue what Board President Lee Caldwell said has been a successful communication history between county leaders and their representatives in Jackson.
“We have a rapport with our legislators and this allows us to express our concerns and ask questions,” Caldwell said. “If they’re going to be dropping a bill, they’ll understand what the needs of our citizens are in this community.”
Among the issues brought up during the two-hour long meeting were annexation, radar use for law enforcement, additional funding for doctors with the state medical examiner’s office, additional state funding for the District Attorney’s office, and unfunded mandates.
The annexation issue, no doubt, was brought up in response to the city of Olive Branch’s effort this year to annex about 50 square miles of land in the Center Hill, Lewisburg, Bridgetown, Pleasant Hill and Cedar View communities inside its city limits.
Supervisors have gone on record in the past against the annexation effort and have expressed the hope that legislation addressing the public’s lack of involvement in the process would be crafted in Jackson.
That became one of the official requests from the Board to its legislators on Monday, asking that residents be given a voice in the process.
“I realize that if everybody got to vote on annexation, there wouldn’t be another annexation in this state,” said Supervisor Mark Gardner. “It’s something that’s got a lot of folks in this county upset right now when you’ve got that large of a proposed annexation.”
County leaders stated that residents in the unincorporated areas of the county have equal or better services available than in the municipalities that want to annex them. Supervisors also said city residents also have no recourse but the ballot box after the fact when the city’s own resources may be stretched because of the additional land and residents.
Board members asked legislators to propose new laws to give residents a stronger voice in the issue.
Many death investigations in Mississippi often take a lengthy amount of time, extended because of an understaffed state medical examiner’s office. In a letter from County Coroner Josh Pounders, he stated there are only two doctors on the staff to do autopsies for all 82 Mississippi counties. Pounders said in some cases, it can take more than a year for a completed autopsy report from that office because of the workload, although the time frame has been reduced to a degree in recent months.
But the board’s request to the legislators is that funding be provided to add more medical examiners to the office.
Board members also asked local legislators to consider having the Mississippi Department of Transportation look into adding traffic signals at the state Highway 305 intersection with Bethel Road, and expanding Highway 305 between Church Road and Byhalia Road to a five-lane roadway, due to increased traffic counts in the Lewisburg area.
The use of radar by county law enforcement was another issue brought up by the Board of Supervisors to local legislators. Deputies are not allowed to use radar on their patrols, and as one supervisor said, “residents know it,” underlining the increased speeds on county roads.
Motor vehicle crashes on county roads have increased to 766 in 2018 from 378 in 2012. The 2018 figure includes four fatalities.
“My suggestion is to give the Sheriff’s Department the option whether to use it or not,” said Supervisor Michael Lee. “Let each one who decides to use radar, use radar. If you had two vehicles out here with radar, you will start slowing down because now the general public will know that they have radar out there.”
The argument against radar usage is that, in some counties, it becomes a revenue issue instead of a safety issue. Supervisors would like to see the state Audit Department or Department of Public Safety be allowed to control the use of radar, such as allowing radar use in two vehicles instead of all vehicles in a populated county like DeSoto County. That would keep drivers “guessing” on what squad cars actually have the radar and the uncertainty might help slow traffic down in the county and reduce accidents.
Radar usage would also be an option instead of a mandate and with an agreement with the state Highway Patrol, be used on state, federal and interstate highways, in addition to county roads.
Among other requests from the Monday meeting, the board asked that the state pay for legal representation of indigent parents in cases involving the termination of parental rights when a public defender is required; increasing the state court judicial allowance to $125,500 to make up for shortfalls the counties are required to cover; provide more state funding for the District Attorney’s office, and fully fund state obligations on death row appeals that now fall on the counties to pay.
Pieter Zee with the Tax Assessor’s office discussed a need to modify a code section of law to require tax assessors to use the potential gross income approach using allowable expenses for a true value determination in affordable rental housing, or Section 42 housing.
Requests for changes in the purchasing law regarding reverse auctions were also made.
COLONIAL HILLS POLLING PLACE MOVED: Board members agreed Monday to move the voting location for the Colonial Hills Precinct 301 from Colonial Hills Baptist Church to Trinity Baptist Church, 2101 Colonial Hills Drive in Southaven. Election Commissioner Danny Klein was on hand at Monday’s meeting to present the request.
“The church has sold that building,” said Caldwell. “Trinity Church has been very gracious to allow us to have our voting precinct there. The Circuit Clerk’s office will now send out a card with the information to every registered voter in that precinct.”
The change will take effect with the next election, scheduled for March, Caldwell said.
CALDWELL ON TRANSITION TEAM: In other news involving members of the Board of Supervisors, Board President Lee Caldwell was named Tuesday to represent the county on the transition team for Attorney General-elect Lynn Fitch. The co-chairs are James H. Herring and Curt Hébert.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.