Harrison County supervisors' fund paid for parking lot at Ohr Museum

Sun HeraldJune 27, 2014 

A construction crew was working on new parking lot at Ohr O'Keefe Museum of Art on Friday.

SUN HERALD

BILOXI -- Crews are again working on a parking lot south of the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in East Biloxi on Friday.

The city had issued a stop-work order on the project Wednesday because Harrison County didn't file permits for the work or get the approval of the state Department of Archives and History.

"We don't need a permit," Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman III told the Sun Herald on Friday. He said the City Council passed the resolution for the project May 27 and the mayor signed it, allowing the county to improve the property, including "additional parking." Swetman said that is all he needs for any work on the city-owned site.

Swetman said he met with Mayor A.J. Holloway and city administrator David Nichols on Friday and got approval for work to continue.

Jerry Creel, director of community development, said every project in the city, including the Biloxi Library and the Biloxi Visitors Center, must have a permit and review of drainage and other construction issues.

The county and city are teaming up to operate a senior center in the museum's Center for Ceramics. It opened Friday at 4 p.m.

Swetman said the county will cover the salary of a full-time director and pay some of the utility costs, which he estimated to be a combined annual expense of near $50,000. The city will pay for arts and crafts materials, and the seniors will have use of the kilns and other museum facilities.

He also said the start-up costs of about $15,000 came from his district's "escrow account."

County administrator Pam Ulrich said there is only one countywide escrow fund, a common name for the special levy appraisal fund, which comes from property taxes. There is about $500,000 in this year's fund, she said.

Ulrich said it can be used for any one-time capital expenditure. For example, office and building supplies can be purchased from it, but it can't be used for salaries.

"As long as you stay within the budget and it meets the purchasing laws and it's a legitimate purchase, there's no problem with that," she said.

The Sun Herald wrote extensively in 2001 about the supervisors' use of the then-$1 million escrow account.

The supervisors must adhere to the unit system, according to state law, which restricts them to policy-making and gives all administrative powers to a county administrator.

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