District wants court to decide if county has to pay for waterparks

LAMAR COUNTY — The Pat Harrison Waterway District has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to determine whether Lamar County must still pay for operation of nine waterparks regardless of its decision to leave the district.

At issue is about $18.6 million. The waterway district argues Lamar County has a contractual obligation to maintain the nine waterparks in the Pat Harrison system “into perpetuity.” PHWD filed its notice of appeal on Sept. 9. PWHD attorneys would not comment on the details of the appeal.

The Hattiesburg American reports that Chancery Judge Hollis McGehee ruled in favor of Lamar County in an August ruling.

Lamar County argued its financial obligation to the waterway district ended when supervisors voted 3-1 on Sept. 6, 2011 to leave the district.

McGehee sided with an auditing firm, which determined that Lamar County will pay about $375,000 as its share of outstanding obligations before its exit as a district member.

Attorney David Kaufman, who represented the county in the case, said the lower court ruled correctly.

“We obviously are disappointed that the Pat Harrison Waterway District insists on continuing to litigate a position that is at odds with the clear language of the withdrawal statute,” Kaufman said in an email. “The chancery court decision that the estimated perpetual operating costs of the district cannot be recovered under that statute is absolutely correct.”

The Supreme Court’s decision could decide the obligations of two other counties — Jasper and Forrest — that have voted in the past few weeks to severe their association with the district.

Curtis Gray Sr., Jasper County Board of Supervisors president, said the one mill dedicated to membership in the water district would be worth about $168,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Forrest County board attorney David Miller said the county spent an average of $460,000 to Pat Harrison over the past four years.

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