Schools want to re-negotiate 16th Section lease agreement with MDWFP

HANCOCK COUNTY — The Bay-Waveland School District is hoping to re-negotiate a 40-year-old lease in hopes of bringing in more money for the schools.

According to public records, the district in conjunction with the Hancock County School District agreed to a 99-year lease of 16th Section land with the state Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Department for only $2,400 a year. The lease was signed in 1972. That land makes up 326 acres of the 398 total acres at Buccaneer State Park.

Bay-Waveland only receives 45 percent of the $2,400, or $1,080 a year hardly enough to make a dent in the district’s multimillion dollar budget. The other 55 percent goes to the Hancock County School District.

According to the Hancock County Assessor’s Office, since the property is exempt from property taxes, there is no assessed value listed.

At this week’s school board meeting, board member Mike Benvenutti asked the board to write a letter to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann asking him to reevaluate the lease.

Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said the only way the lease could be re-negotiated is if the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks surrendered the lease before it expires in 2071.

Benvenutti said that since he was named to the school board three years ago, he has been wanting the lease to be re-negotiated.

Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benvenutti said, Buccaneer State Park took in more than $1 million a year in revenue. That number is down significantly as the park has slowly recovered from the storm.

The final phase of the $17 million rebuilding project should be completed next year.

Lynel Necaise, Bay-Waveland’s 16th Section land manager, said the lease amount is far too low, but the school board has tried several times to get more money for the lease.

“It’s been tried many times,” Necaise said. “It’s been unsuccessful so far.”

Section 16 lands have a long history. When Mississippi was surveyed in the early 1800s, every 16th section of land, measuring 640 acres, was allocated to schools to use as a revenue source. Common uses of the lands include hunting, mining, farming, timber extraction and commercial development. Statewide, more than 640,000 acres are held by 108 school districts.

In comparison to other local school districts, officials say Bay-Waveland receives a paltry amount of money from 16th Section land and it only controls a relatively small piece of the properties.

Necaise said land was divided up based on the area that a school district covers, so municipal school districts generally control little 16th Section land.

The Pass Christian School District, for example, only has 14 acres of 16th Section land with leases in place, adding about $7,100 annually to the district’s coffers.

The Hancock County School District makes more than $330,000 annually from 170 leases covering nearly 4,000 acres of land. Most of those leases are for private homes, but some plots of land are leased for hunting, fishing and logging rights.

Harrison County schools receive more than $1.56 million a year in lease revenue from 80 leases on about 2,400 acres, mostly from the land that makes up the Crossroads Shopping Center and the factory outlet stores in Gulfport.

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