HATTIESBURG — The Forrest County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to withdraw from the Pat Harrison Waterway District following a lengthy executive session.
Board president David Hogan told The Hattiesburg American yesterday’s decision was financially motivated.
The waterway district provides flood control, water management and recreation along rivers and their tributaries in the Pascagoula River Basin in southeastern and east central Mississippi.
Board attorney David Miller said over the past four years, the county has paid an average of $460,000 annually into the Pat Harrison system, with an average annual return of around $35,000 in drainage project assistance.
“They (supervisors) couldn’t justify continuing that burden on the taxpayers,” Miller said.
State law allows counties to withdraw from waterway districts as long as they pay their portion of the district’s debt as it stands when they leave. The amount owed is determined by an audit.
Miller said he does not know when the audit will be completed.
Lamar County, whose board voted to withdraw in September of 2011, wound up owing about $375,000 upon its withdrawal from the district as per a Forrest County Chancery Court decision last month.
Lamar County paid about $390,000 annually to Pat Harrison.
A statute passed in 1995 and effective in 1999 created a provision that permitted any of the then 15 counties comprising Pat Harrison to withdraw.
The statute mandated that an independent audit be done to determine a county’s share of any “bonds, contractual obligations, and any other indebtedness or liabilities of the district that are outstanding on the date of such county’s withdrawal.”
Pat Harrison sued Lamar County in May of last year over their right to withdraw and what the county’s obligations were, and Miller said he thinks Forrest County may find itself in a similar situation.
“That would not surprise me, but I would certainly like to avoid that if we can,” he said.
Jasper County’s Board of Supervisors also voted to withdraw from the district last week.