Rankin County taxpayers could be paying the city of Flowood $250,000 a year for up to 20 years, or $5 million total, if a deal for a conference center and hotel pans out.
The agreement, signed Monday, is “an inducement to the City to move forward with the Project,” according to the document. If the hotel does not provide services equivalent to Marriott Hotels or if the project does not move forward, the agreement will no longer be in effect.
On Friday, the board authorized President Greg Wilcox, who is also the parks and recreation director for Flowood, to sign the agreement with the city without any public discussion.
A call to Wilcox on Tuesday was not immediately returned.
On the same day, Administrator J.K. Stringer resigned from his position. He told The Clarion-Ledger he resigned because it’s time for retirement. However, county Tax Assessor John Sullivan said he was told the Flowood project was “one of many reasons” Stringer resigned.
County Supervisor Jay Bishop said the board discussed the project publicly during its budgeting process at past meetings.
“We discussed the possibility and the whole layout and what our contribution would be,” Bishop recalled. “We discussed pros and cons, and how much improvements would be made in terms of ad valorem and job creation.”
Bishop said the city of Flowood was the “originator” of the project.
When reached Tuesday afternoon, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads said he was going into a meeting and couldn’t comment at that time.
Jackson currently has its own 330,000-square-foot convention center downtown, but Bishop said Rankin County needs its own.
“We want people, when they get off at the airport, to stop here at this hotel and do their business from here rather than Jackson or Madison,” he said.
Other officials aren’t so sure the project is a good idea.
“All you’re doing is passing the buck to the next taxpayer,” Tax Assessor Sullivan said. “But if they want to do it, I will continue to do my job and provide them the information they need.”
Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough worries this may set a bad precedent.
“I hope Flowood does get the conference center and hotel. No doubt that will be an asset to everybody in Rankin County,” Scarborough said. “250,000 may not be a lot per year but it’s a lot of money over 20 years.”
Scarborough also questions the transparency of the process.
“This wasn’t full disclosure that everybody had a chance to participate in,” Scarborough said.