Hundreds of objections to school bonds filed with court

Published 1:07 am Saturday, January 27, 2018


NATCHEZ —Adams County residents filed more than 450 objections to the two school bond issues scheduled for a court hearing Monday.

As of Friday evening, 447 objections had been filed with the Adams County Chancery Clerk’s Office, but a stack of objections that had not yet been officially scanned into the system laid waiting on a clerk’s desk at day’s end.

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Those objections will be filed early Monday morning before a 9 a.m. hearing at the Adams County Chancery Court.

The hearing was set to give residents a deadline to submit objections to the $35 million projected cost and is a precursor to the chancery court’s possible validation of the bonds.

The objections address two bond issues: the borrowing of $9 million by means of a tax increase to Adams County residents, and a $25 million lease agreement with the Natchez-Adams School District.

With those funds, the school district plans to construct a new high school — having for years cited school design and upkeep as concerns with the current high school— and renovate many existing school buildings.

Members of the Natchez-Adams School Board have spoken often about the need for a new high school, but it was only in the March 30, 2017, specially called meeting that the district announced its plan to seek $35 million for the project.

The March 30 meeting approved a resolution both to hold a special election concerning the bond issue and to approve a resolution of intent for a lease purchase agreement.

Only 51 percent of Adams County residents voted in favor of the $35 million bond, however, falling short of the mandatory 60 percent needed for passage.

After the election, the school district moved to instead seek $34 million in a combination of $9 million in limited tax notes and a $25 million lease program.

The $9 million bond would be primarily funded through an increased property tax to Adams County residents.

The remaining $25 million would be funded through a lease-purchase arrangement, which the district would have to pay each year without raising taxes, as mandated by Mississippi Code.

The majority of the objections to the $9 million bonds cite a lack of taxpayer approval in the May election as a primary reason for objection.

Other objections site a petition that several thousand Adams County residents purportedly signed requesting a second election be called before the final approval of the borrowing on June 20.

Many objections to the $25 million agreement also cite the May 2017 election as an example of voter disapproval of the bond. The lease agreement was, however, never a factor in the special election.

Many of the objections cite moral or ethical reasons against validating the bonds.

“The NASD has proved they are not good stewards of our money by holding a special election that costs the taxpayers a large sum of money,” Mark and Kala Miller wrote in their objection. “When they didn’t get the results they wanted, they proceeded anyway. This is no way to run a public school system and does not promote a sense of unity in our community. I’m not necessarily opposed to building a new school. I’m opposed to the only option that was offered.”

Others said the tax burden on Adams County residents would simply be too great.

“As owners of multiple formally foreclosed properties we purchased and renovated and placed on the tax rolls, our tax burden is already unduly inequitable,” wrote Larry and Diana Stewart in their objection. “Additional taxes will force the sale of all properties and relocation to another state where the Constitution and voters rights are respected.”

Business owner Kevin Wilson submitted objections to both bonds through his lawyer, Paul Koerber.

Wilson’s objections to the $25 million lease primarily focus on the legality of the process by which the lease agreement was approved.

Wilson argues that between the bond election on May 23, 2017, and the publication of the tax notes on July 5, board meeting minutes did not show a lease-agreement resolution.

While true that between the aforementioned dates no board meeting addressed the issue of a lease agreement, the board members approved a resolution of intent for that very thing on March 30.

Wilson also argues that the company with which the Natchez Adams School District would execute its lease agreement, Natchez-Adams Leasing Authority Inc., is incorporated by David Watkins, against whom Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann pressed sanctions for “employing misleading and deceptive actions.”

Wilson also cites pending charges against Watkins in Madison County.

In “The State of Mississippi County of Madison v. David Watkins,” Watkins was indicted but has not been found guilty of fraud and embezzlement.

The case has not yet gone to trial.

These exhibits Wilson provides, he reasons, give the court reason to declare the lease agreement invalid and unlawful.

In a previously filed objection, Wilson also purports that the process by which the $9 million tax notes were authorized violates state laws and the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Wilson also previously filed a motion for recusal, requesting that the local judge assigned to the bond issue — Vincent Davis — recuse himself and move the case to a special judge appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Koerber said the hearing for Wilson’s objections and motion will be on Feb. 15.