CATEGORY: SUP Lee Board of SupervisorsMOULDE
LEE REJECTS PRESLEY LAKE PLAN
By Philip Moulden
Lee County supervisors voted Monday to reject a plan to open Elvis Presley Lake to the public this summer.
The proposal, offered by the Tombigbee River Management District, carried no direct monetary cost for the county but would require it to act as “fiscal agent” and manager of the lake park.
The popular park, operated by the city of Tupelo in past years, was closed last season. City officials balked at paying the bulk of park operations costs and said its $100,000 annual lake costs could be better spent upgrading parks within the city limits.
The county had been giving the city $20,000 each year to help cover costs.
The water management district, which owns the lake property, proposed opening the park until Sept. 30. Swimming and fishing would be permitted but the camping area would not be opened.
“A lot of the problems they have out there and a lot of the expense they have out there are related to the campground areas,” County Administrator Ronnie Bell said.
Bell estimated it would cost $53,200 to run the facility through September, with various user fees expected to bring in $19,000. The river management district agreed to make up the $34,200, he said.
Although the district has the money to cover the cost, under state restraints it cannot hire additional personnel, Bell said. Thus it hoped to use the county as an agent to handle expenditures and hire the temporary employees needed.
But Bell said the county would face liability exposure for any problems at the park, and noted while it might not boost insurance premiums this year it could lead to higher premiums next year.
“If you’re hiring the guy that’s going to be managing it then you’re responsible for it,” board attorney Bill Beasley told supervisors.
In one of the rare disagreements among supervisors, the board split 3-2 against the park plan.
“How’s the county going to benefit from it?” asked District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy.
“We’re going to benefit by giving people a place to go out and have recreation,” replied board President Billy Davis. “We’re not putting any money in there.”
But District 3 Supervisor Charles Duke noted the county had rejected earlier plans to run the park and shouldn’t change its stand.
“I thought we voted not to do this … not to get Lee County involved,” Duke said. “I might be willing to give Tombigbee the $20,000 we were giving the city and let them run it.
“The problem is that Lee County will shut it down next year. We’ll get the blame for shutting it,” Duke said. “The city did it last time.”
Ivy and Duke initially asked for more time to consider the question, but Davis called for an immediate decision.
“If you study it till September, you won’t be needing to study it any longer,” he said. “If we’re going to open it, we need to open it (soon).
“I’m getting a lot of calls and they’d like to see the lake open back up,” Davis said. “Of course you’ve got liability on anything, but I’m not afraid of liability with what they are doing out there.”
District 5 Supervisor Thomas Kennedy sided with Davis in favor of the plan. District 2 Supervisor Everett Swann joined Duke and Ivy in opposition.
Tombigbee water district engineer Jimmy Mills said later Monday the agency had no alternate plan for opening the park, but said agency officials would study the matter further. If the county had agreed, the district’s board of directors had been expected to approve contract terms at a meeting tonight.