The topic that got the most discussion from the Laurel City Council on Tuesday morning was an agenda item that was deleted right before the meeting started.
A resolution to “freeze any and all purchases over the amount of $5,000” from May 24-Sept. 1 because of “business slowdowns and closures” associated with the coronavirus pandemic was removed from consideration by the council. The official who submitted it was Councilman Stacy Comegys, who has been joining the meetings by teleconference since the state’s shelter-in-place order began in mid-March.
“We don’t put fluff in the budget,” Councilman George Carmichael said. “It’s not the time to say don’t spend money. Whether it’s $5,000 or $50,000, pandemic or not, we always try to be good stewards of our tax dollars.”
Mayor Johnny Magee agreed, noting that neither he nor City Clerk Mary Ann Hess were talked to before the item was placed on the agenda. He said they meet on some aspect of the budget regularly and are constantly monitoring resources and spending. He suggested they should have been consulted if there are concerns.
“We don’t spend money just to be spending money,” he said. “I appreciate the concern, but let the administration do what the administration does, and let the council do what it does, which is legislation.”
As it turns out, the fears about anticipated loss in revenue were unfounded, so far. The sales-tax rebate to the city from March sales was surprisingly strong, Council President Tony Thaxton and Magee said. The city got almost $800,000 in sales-tax revenue and $190,000 in tourism tax. Both numbers are almost up to average, “and that’s with half of March shut down,” Councilman Tony Wheat noted.
Magee noted how many people were on Facebook blasting stores like Walmart, Lowe’s and Kroger for being full during the shelter-in-place order.
“That’s how we survived,” he said.
Officials are still concerned about the rebate that will come in mid-June, reflecting April sales, during which the shutdown was in effect the entire month.
In other business, the council moved forward with issuing $4.5 million in bonds that’s for work on the “eight-plex” of softball fields and other additions and improvements at the SportsPlex.
“We’re in a unique situation because we have the money to do the work, but we’re waiting on an agency before we can do it,” Magee said.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality still has to do site approval where an old landfill was located, Magee said.
“We met a while back … why can’t we get anything done?” Wheat asked.
Magee said that DEQ officials have told him they’re not in the office and are working from home during the shutdown.
In another matter, Magee announced that milling had begun on 24th Street and it was about to be paved. It was one of many such projects going on around the city, Thaxton said. Work is ongoing on the water system along Old Bay Springs Road that is expected to improve water pressure for residents in the area, Thaxton said.
The council unanimously approved:
• South Central Regional Medical Center’s donation of 300 N95 facemasks to the city to limit the spread of COVID-19;
• Amending the public access hours of gated community Windermere; the gate will now be closed from 6 p.m.-6 a.m. instead of closing at 9 p.m. Emergency-responders have access at all hours;
• The Laurel Housing Authority’s donation of playground equipment to K.C. Park;
• The reappointment of Susan Vincent to the Board of Commissioners of the Pine Belt Regional Solid Waste Management Authority;
• The Laurel Police Department’s application for a $40,590 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Grant and a $7,500 Bullet Proof Vest Partnership Grant;
• An ad valorem tax exemption for Laurel Machine & Foundry.
The council also unanimously agreed to set a public hearing for the June 16 meeting for the owners of the following properties that have been deemed a public menace by the Inspection Department:
• 523 West 20th St., Parker McCurley;
• 1431 Julian St., Kimberly D. Harris;
• 1205 McConkey St., Cardinal Management Group LLC;
• 1935 North 1st Ave., Stephanie and Byron Morgan Green;
• 913 South 14th Ave., Perry and Christy Brown;
• 906 South 14th Ave., Jeremy Lee Weaver;
• 1640 Airport Dr., Carol P. Beckman;
• 2012 Airport Dr., JMD Tax Service;
• 104 Hillcrest Dr., Shirley S. Fowler/Angela Kay Rayner;
• 1949 Ellisville Road, Libba Rogers
The council unanimously agreed to have the following properties cleaned by city workers and bill the owners:
• 615 East 19th St., Deborah Hyde, Omeria Scott;
• 2112 North 3rd Ave., Dykes Properties LLC;
• 2216 Center Ave., RMF Funding LLC;
• 1205 McConkey St., Cardinal Management Group
The council also approved 10 lot-cleaning assessments ranging in cost from $115 to $3,117.40.