- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) - What started as a routine visit by a political candidate ignited a discussion of issues facing county government at a recent Pike County board of supervisors meeting.

Daryl J. Porter Jr., who’s running for State Senate District 38, attended the meeting to introduce himself to supervisors and solicit their vote.

Porter, a Summit town councilman and a Democrat, is one of seven candidates running to replace Sen. Kelvin Butler, who is running for Pike County chancery clerk. Others are Democrats Angela Brooks, Albert Eubanks, Tammy Witherspoon and Gregory Harris; Republican Dennis Quinn and independent Bente Hess Johnson.

Near the end of the meeting, Porter asked supervisors to name the biggest issues facing county government. Supervisors’ responses were quick.

“Job creation south of I-20,” said Tazwell Bowsky.

“Unfunded mandates,” said Faye Hodges.

“Giving the sheriff’s departments the right to have radar,” said Gary Honea.

Job creation is a perennial issue, especially in southwest Mississippi, which local officials say is all too often ignored by state officials.

Supervisors discussed radar for sheriff’s departments earlier this month after a resident complained of people speeding on McComb-Holmesville Road. Sheriff Mark Shepherd said the Legislature should authorize sheriffs to operate radar and crack down on such problems.

Unfunded mandates prompted the most discussion among supervisors.

Board president Chuck Lambert defined the term as “where they (legislators) will dictate what we have to do and not provide the funding to do it.”

Honea added that the Legislature and other branches of state government sometimes fund a program long enough to get it going, then drop the money, forcing local officials either to discontinue the program or fund it themselves.

Complying with unfunded mandates requires local boards to raise taxes, cut other services or both, Lambert said, noting the problem affects town and school boards as well.

Steve Gray, director of governmental affairs for the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said the association spends so much time fighting unfunded mandates that it doesn’t have time to promote positive programs.

The Legislature also approved raises for court reporters but allocated no funding for them, Gray said.

A number of other unfunded mandates made it out of committee or one of the chambers but ultimately failed to pass.

“It’s hard to push positive things when you’re fighting negative bills,” Gray said.

Here are some unfunded mandates that failed to pass the Legislature, in part because of MAS lobbying, Gray said:

- Senate Bill 2065: Pollution Control Exemption (mandated ad valorem exemption). “The death of this particular bill can be attributed to the pre-emptive organizing and planning of the MAS Legislative Committee and its membership,” according to an MAS publication. “The nature of this bill was an attack on local authority, because local taxing authorities already have the tools to exempt this value when deemed appropriate, and the unclear definition of ‘pollution control equipment’ could have ignited numerous lawsuits. This measure died in Senate committee.”

- Senate Bill 2585: “This measure could have allowed tuberculosis patients who refused treatment to be jailed in the local county jail. If passed into law, this could have been a potential liability issue to local county government. This measure failed on a House floor vote.”

- House Bill 216: “This bill would have prohibited any increase in the assessed value of homestead property for eligible persons who are 65 and older. This bill would have prevented counties from collecting new revenue after reappraisal. This measure died in Senate committee.”

- House Bill 939: “This bill increases the per diem payment to election commissioners for their performances of duties on non-election days. This bill mandates that the county general fund shall fund this increase from $84 to $100 per day. This measure died in Senate committee.”

- House Bill 600: “This bill would have removed the requirement that an offender may be confined no more than 21 days from admission to detention until a revocation hearing is held whenever an offender is arrested for an alleged violation of probation. Instead of the 21 days confinement it would have been 180 days; thus, the longer the wait, the more costly to county government to house and service the offender in the local facility. This measure died in Senate Committee.”

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Information from: Enterprise-Journal, http://www.enterprise-journal.com

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