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Supervisors to purchase more industrial park land

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Sunday, Dec. 3, 2000
Lauderdale County supervisors are expected to purchase more land Monday for a proposed industrial park, in an area known as Malone Ranch.
Late last month, the board voted to pay $2.4 million of the $4.25 million in general obligation bond funds for almost half the land needed. The 314-acre parcel bought from Four-M Ranch whose sole member is William J. Van Devender borders U.S. 11/80 on the west side of the 630-acre site.
At Monday's meeting, supervisors are expected to approve the purchase of parcels of land owned by Johnny R. Morgan and Ronnie D. Massey.
County Administrator Rex Hiatt said he does not know the total acreage but that the land is "pretty much the balance of the property out there."
Hiatt said one small parcel is still under negotiation and the board may have to consider eminent domain proceedings in order to acquire it. District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell said the board has options to buy all the parcels.
Each time supervisors exercise an option, they have to first recess as the Board of Supervisors and convene as the Lauderdale County Economic Development District a maneuver some have questioned.
Board attorney Rick Barry said supervisors cannot purchase land the LCEDD will own. They must purchase it as trustees of the district instead.
According to a state statute dating back to the 1960s, district trustees can "acquire by gift, purchase or otherwise" property for "the development, use and operation of industrial parks or other industrial development purposes."
They can also "own, hold, maintain, control and develop" the property and improve it with the "construction or contracting for the construction of streets, roads, railroads, spur tracks, site improvements, water sewerage, drainage, pollution control" and can "acquire, purchase, install, lease, construct, own, hold, equip, control, maintain, use, operate and repair other structures and facilities" they need for planning, development, use, operation and maintenance.
Barry said supervisors have served as LCEDD trustees since it was formed in the 1970s.
If they appoint anyone else, they have to retire their positions and appoint all new members to avoid an "ethics or conflict of interest situation," Barry said.
Some county residents have said the Board of Trustees' purchasing land is a way to head off an attorney general's opinion that supervisors can't pay more for land than its appraised value.
He said supervisors as trustees negotiated in "good faith."
Barry said county officials discussed the financial arrangements with the state auditor and the attorney general's office before moving ahead with the purchases.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@meridianstar.com.

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