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Board having second thoughts about former grocery property purchase

Supervisors are looking at purchasing the 17,000 sq. ft. former Sunflower grocery building for use by the county for additional office, courtroom and parking space. The board is meeting Wednesday to discuss the building.

Some county supervisors are having second thoughts about the county’s purchase of the former Sunflower grocery building and parking lot, located across Magnolia Avenue, southwest of the Walthall County Courthouse.
Some board members told The Times they had agreed to look at the purchase with the understanding that either party could back out of the agreement within 90 days.
The board met in executive session following the Monday, May 3, board meeting to discuss the county’s acquisition of real property and the minutes of the meeting indicates no action was taken.
The following day the board called a special meeting and at that time Board Atty. Conrad Mord presented supervisors with a proposal to purchase the Mounger Properties (Old Sunflower building and parking lot) –land and buildings–at a cost of $450,000 with a 90-day contract included. After some discussion on the matter, the minutes of the meeting shows Doug Popwell making the motion to purchase the properties with a second by Ken Craft. The vote was unanimous with all five supervisors voting to purchase.
Although state law requires the public be notified of a special meeting, no such notification was made and the local newspaper was unaware of the meeting. It wasn’t until several days later that The Times heard about the supervisors’ vote.
The Times later talked with Board Atty. Mord concerning the building purchase and reported the board had agreed to a 90-day contract.
Since that time supervisors have toured the building with the county engineer, but have not nailed down plans for what offices or courtroom space might move to the building should they purchase it.
The former food store has about 17,000 square feet of space. If the board were to locate several selected offices and a courtroom to the building, it would utilize between 6,000-7000 square feet, leaving another 10,000 sq. ft. for future development.
The board says the asking price for the building works out to about $25 a square foot. If remodeling costs ran $75 a square foot the board might choose to piecemeal by reworking 7,000 square feet for a little over $500,000 and leaving 10,000 square feet undeveloped until later, so the initial cost of building purchase and 7,000 sq. ft. of office space would come close to $1 million or a bit over.
But many board members have said they’ve received negative comments from the public regarding purchase of the building. Additionally, The Times has fielded inquiries from readers, many also questioning the purchase and bringing up questions that would need to be addressed.
Four supervisors spoke with The Times and said they are under the impression the county can back out of the building purchase.
Board president Larry Montgomery said Friday that was his understanding. Montgomery said he signed the agreement with the 90-day stipulation. However, no copy of the signed agreement is on file at the chancery clerk’s office or with the board minutes. Montgomery said the board is to meet Wednesday to further discuss the building after they had a chance to look at it last week.
Supervisor Doug Popwell said when the board discussed purchasing the property none of the supervisors had looked at the building. He said it was his impression that the 90 days was to give the board time to look over the building before committing the purchase.
Chancery Clerk Shannon Fortinberry also told The Times she understood the attorney to tell the board they could opt out within 90 days. Her understanding is the 90-day contract runs out Aug. 4.
A question posed by Times readers involves a current appraisal. Supervisors have not commissioned an appraisal of the building. The State Department of Finance and Administration requires a current appraisal–one made within 12 months–when it makes a purchase.
Board Atty. Conrad Mord said supervisors will take up the issue at Wednesday’s meeting. “I can better tell you the board’s feelings after the meeting.”
Mord said he is listed as an “organizer” on Mounger Properties LLC paperwork, but has no actual interest. He said although he represents both the county and Mounger in the initial proceedings he cannot represent both in the final negotiations.
“Since the county plans to use some of the COVID-19 monies, I am forbidden by federal laws in representing both, so I would be representing only the county,” he said. “I plan to get with the board Wednesday and relay this to them.”

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