Sumrall tennis courts to reap benefits of BP funds

By HASKEL BURNS,

The question of where to use the $500,000 secured by Lamar County as part of the BP Settlement Bill seems to have been answered, as the Lamar County Board of Supervisors are expected to approve a Memorandum of Understanding that would send the money to Sumrall for tennis courts, rather than the proposed sports complex on U.S. 98.

Although supervisors didn’t officially vote on the matter at last week’s meeting, board attorney Perry Phillips has been tasked with putting together the nuts and bolts of the memorandum and bringing it before the board for approval at the Dec. 3 meeting.

“It appears that the desire of the board is to send that money to the city of Sumrall for their tennis and soccer complex,” Lamar County Administrator Jody Waits said. 

The confusion came after the recent passage of the bill – formally known as Senate Bill 2002 – in which Sen. Joey Fillingane, who co-authored the bill, intended for the funds to go to the construction of six tennis courts at an existing soccer complex on Mississippi 42 in Sumrall. Supervisors, who were unaware of Fillingane’s intentions, had proposed at a previous meeting for the $500,000 to go to the sports complex, which is proposed for U.S. 98 just west of Oloh.

An eight-member “vision team” is now in place to map out the complex. (See story on Page 3A).

Fillingane said although the tennis courts weren’t specifically mentioned in Senate Bill 2002 because he didn’t have the proper legal description when the bill was authored, he’s glad that supervisors are using the money for his original intent.

“I’m very happy that the board of supervisors has decided to use the $500,000 that I was able to get for the Sumrall soccer and tennis complex,” he said. “That’s very exciting, and I’m very appreciative that they have chosen to do that.

“I know the community will be very glad to hear that, and I want to thank them for that.”

Several supervisors expressed their belief that because the Sumrall tennis/soccer site is on county-owned land, the county should give or sell the land to Sumrall along with the money.

“This has been the most convoluted mess I’ve ever seen,” District 2 Supervisor Warren Byrd said. “I’d make a motion to give the land and the $500,000 to the city of Sumrall. If we’re going to give the money to them, they get the land too.

“The city will reap the benefits from it – the tax base from it, the sales tax from it. I think it’s a win-win for everybody. They get the money, they get the land.”

Sumrall Mayor Heath Sumrall said he hasn’t discussed the matter of the money or the land with the Sumrall Board of Aldermen, but he plans to address them in the near future.

“Knowing the mindset of the people up there on the board, I believe they’d be willing to do that,” he said.

The centralized sports complex got an official start of sorts in September, when supervisors approved a 20-year comprehensive plan for the county that included the facility. The site on U.S. 98 that is being discussed for the project is located on 16-section land that is owned by the Lamar County School District.

The $500,000 is part of the $750 million distributed throughout Mississippi as a result of the state’s lawsuit regarding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which 210 million gallons of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. 

“The sports complex kind of came to us with the comprehensive plan, and we didn’t know about the half-million dollars until we got a copy of the bill,” District 4 Supervisor Phillip Carlisle said. “So it wasn’t intentional – it just kind of happened like that.

“We didn’t learn about the half-million dollars and then say ‘Hey, let’s move forward on the sportsplex.’ It just hit at the same time.”

Carlisle said more BP money is expected to become available in the coming years, and he looks forward to working with the Legislature on the matter.

“I’m not 100 percent sure, but right now, I think my vote is going to be to approve the (money) transfer,” he said. “I’m glad we tabled it until at least the next meeting.”