County having master plan drawn; bridge, buildings, space in balance|[1/13/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2006

The fate of at least three public buildings and, perhaps, the U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge will be weighed in the next few months as a comprehensive plan is drafted.

The Warren County Jail, the former Justice Court building at Adams and Grove streets, the former Southern Printing building at First North and Clay streets will be studied by Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, a regional planning group of which Warren County is a member.

William Peacock of CMPDD met with supervisors Thursday as part of a three-day process of gathering information.

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Peacock told supervisors he was interested in studying only those properties the county actively uses; however, the board brought up every possible structure where immediate action is seen as needed.

&#8220We do need to separate the wants from the needs,” Peacock said.

In August, the county agreed to have CMPDD start the project, estimated to cost $85,000. It would entail performing a survey of existing land uses and preparation of maps of that usage, preparing a goals and objective document, land-use plan, transportation and circulation plan and a public facilities plan.

At the time, CMPDD officials said the total plan would take 18 to 24 months to prepare. At Thursday’s meeting, Peacock said the first draft of a facility-use plan would take three months, while an initial draft of a land- and road-use plan would be done in about five months.

Peacock toured the jail with Sheriff Martin Pace Wednesday and met with the chancery clerk and county and circuit court judges as well.

&#8220The point in all this is doing what you can afford,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said, adding that recent statements and actions by city-based historic preservation groups &#8220have no regard for practicality or our taxing ability.”

The U.S. 80 bridge, although not specified by Peacock as being a lock for the study, has been a topic of debate between the board and community groups and was discussed at the meeting. At issue is whether to endorse a pedestrian trail and park atop its roadbed or to negotiate a sale to Kansas City Southern railway. At various times during the past eight years, supervisors have embraced both options and, for a while, also favored reopening the bridge roadbed to traffic.

The county has made a $150,000 offer to the City of Vicksburg for the former Southern Printing building to house new voting machines, and to house E-911 dispatch operations. City officials have said that offer is too low, but have not announced a selling price.

The issue of how best to handle both civil and criminal cases in the county courthouse was broached Wednesday, Peacock said, with security issues taking the fore.

Of equal importance was finding adequate parking if any addition to the courthouse is made.

To that end, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald disputed the historic status of the former Warren County Justice Court building, based on renovations he said were made to the original structure in the 1970s.

Preservationists have indicated the structure is worth saving, but a board majority is leaning toward demolition for more parking space. Consideration of whether to designate the century-old building a Mississippi Landmark is under way.

In other business, John Smith, county administrator, presented a new version of an organizational chart for county government. The board agreed with revisions made to reflect the positions of the emergency management director and fire coordinator as reporting directly to the board.

Smith said completion of an accurate chart would expedite a decision on the type, if any, of employee evaluations implemented.

Some supervisors cautioned against too many revisions, saying the emerging result does not differ from past board policies.

&#8220What you’re doing is drawing a picture of what we’ve already been doing for years and years,” George said.

Supervisors also heard from Volunteer Fire Coordinator Kelly Worthy about the brush fires in the county, totaling 50 since Dec. 1. Worthy reiterated his position against issuing burn bans for Warren County, which would come at the request of the Mississippi Forestry Commission and would give the sheriff’s department enforcement authority.

Worthy said the area’s volunteer fire departments have done well enough in reminding the public to refrain from burning refuse and other flammables in dry weather.

As of Thursday, 11 Mississippi counties had issued bans on outdoor burning.