John Howell column 11-6-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Completion of park serious business for town

In spite of the Panola County Board of Supervisors’ 3-2 vote in October to end county spending on the Como park project, there are a number of reasons that the project needs to move ahead to completion.
And it can be done.

The main and most obvious reason is simply because people need it. There is no other open public space for children’s play and recreation in town.

Another reason is that successful completion of the terms of the $100,000 grant the town received through the North Delta Planning and Development District (NDPDD) will enable Como to apply for a new grant to address other needs in town. And those are many.

Not eligible for new grant

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That’s very important for Como. Until this grant has been properly completed, the town will not be eligible to apply for certain other types of new grants — grants that could fund infrastructure rehabilitation that is badly needed.

(At the May, 2010 board meeting NDPDD representative Chris Pope told town officials that they could apply for a grant to rehabilitate the town’s sewer system. However, Pope said, the mayor and aldermen had to decide whether to continue seeking the park grant, an application process that was then well underway, or to initiate the sewer grant application. They could not apply for both.

Since the park grant application’s approval was much more likely than the sewer rehab grant, town officials — after quizzing then-public works director Tommy Rayburn, who said that the town might be able to put off sewer rehabilitation for another year — told the NDPDD representative to continue with the park grant application. In less than three months the park grant was approved.)

Municipal government distracted
Town government in Como has been somewhat distracted during recent months, having gone through a difficult municipal budgeting process and the complicated negotiations that led to the leasing of its gas system. Then there has been the confusion inherent in training a new municipal clerk and new court clerk.
But the distractions of keeping the town’s business on track should not be allowed to derail completion of the park. What the park now lacks that can’t be completed with volunteer labor or donations, Como needs to pay for using proceeds from its tourism tax.

Allows spending for ‘parks and recreation’

The language of the 2010 local and private bill that authorized Como’s tourism tax included expenditures to promote “parks and recreation.” (Read the bill at

Como voters approved the tourism tax in a referendum that fall. The fund now totals over $80,000. It can’t be spent for other bills, but it can be spent for the promotion of tourism and parks and recreation.
And that’s what needs to happen. Como aldermen should vote to spend the money from the fund — either to pay the county for the dirt and gravel supervisors voted not to provide for free or to get a price from a private contractor who can deliver and place the material.

Support of town needed

Further, the whole town needs to get behind completing the park so that it becomes a facility that everyone can point to with pride. During the October meeting of the mayor and aldermen the issue became noticeably more divisive as proponents of architectural and historical preservation sought approval for efforts to reclaim the old town hall building on Main Street while park proponents urged approval of payment for lighting placed in the park.

Assumptions contribute to discord

At least some of the discord can be blamed on assumptions. There was the assumption that, because the board of supervisors had voted in 2009 to “clean the park” without specifying what amount of materials and labor were permitted, that a different board of supervisors in 2012 would continue donating labor and materials without drawing a line at the cost.

Lighting placement raised questions

The issue of lighting placement dated back to the early stages of the park planning when at least one alderman was left with the understanding the park would be constructed with no ongoing expense to the town. He assumed that if that changed, aldermen would be consulted. When a bill was presented in August for outdoor lighting that had been installed and which would generate a monthly bill for the electricity, the alderman wanted an explanation before paying for the lights.

Meanwhile in 2010, after announcement that the park grant had been approved, the mayor and aldermen appointed a park committee and gave it the broad guidelines of seeking input from the community about that it wanted. The committee found that among those wants was lighting, and the committee assumed, based on the broad guidelines, that it could include the lights, believing that it was within the mission that the board had authorized.

Another assumption compounded problems

 Problems of assumptions were compounded last Friday when our newspaper story incorrectly stated that the chairman of the park committee was Supervisor James Birge’s wife. She is not; she simply shares his last name because she was formerly married to his brother. Henceforth, at her request, she will be identified in our stories as Josie Little.

However, last Friday’s story may have led some readers to incorrectly assume that the supervisor’s request was on behalf of his wife, which it was not. He made the motion on behalf of his constituents, the residents of District One.

Projects similar even if they don’t look alike

Those problems aside, a positive step right now for the Como Main Street Alliance would be to give the completion of the park a priority that parallels the priority its gives reclamation of the old town hall building. It could be as simple as adopting a resolution supporting the use of tourism tax money to complete the park.

Even though the historic preservation project that has been developed by the Alliance and the park construction implemented by the park committee don’t look alike, they are the same thing, really — efforts to improve the quality of life in the town and practically within a block of each other. And if the Alliance throws its support behind getting the park completed, park committee supporters might reciprocate by placing their support behind preservation efforts.

The goal for the whole town should be completing the park and successfully closing the grant that funded it. Until then, according to information provided by NDPDD Director James Curcio, Como will not be eligible to apply for any Community Development Block Grant (C.D.B.G.) for pubic facilities, emergency/urgent needs or self-help.

Everyone in Como has an interest in the park’s completion.