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16th Section Rules Being Enforced

Posted by Jennifer Ortega | July 16, 2012 / 04:30pm | Local News
STARKVILLE, Miss. (WBCI) - An effort to get as much money as possible from the value of publicly owned land is beginning to boomerang for some counties. And that's putting the debate over the state's 16th Section lands back in the spotlight in some counties.

"The person who has to lease of course, they would have to pay a little bit more money but what that does is it generates more dollars for public education," said Oktibbeha County Schools Superintendent James Covington.

16th section land was developed 200 years ago to help the state maintain public schools. For years, districts have leased the property to everyone from hunters to churches and farmers. Those revenues are increasingly important as state and local revenues get tighter every year.

The leases haven't always been at market values but that was the only way tenants were willing to invest. But Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is enforcing the law that says leases must be at fair market value.

"Every 15 years or whenever, however long the lease is, whenever it expires the law say that land has to be reappraised at that current value, at that time....Whenever it's time for the lease to be renewed that, if the land value has gone up then yes the value will have gone up as well," added Covington.

Many school districts in Mississippi benefit from 16th section land and if it wasn't for the leasing of the land, those schools would be strapped for funds.

"States have been cutting public education dollars for the past 4 to 5 years and we depend on 16th section dollars to help fill in those gaps...we heavily depend on 16th section interest to allow us to continue to provide those necessary services for boys and girls," said Covington.

Noxubee County plants trees on many of its lands and leases the property to timber companies. In Winston County, officials have been at odds with the state because some people say paying the higher lease rates prices them out of the market.

Oktibbeha County knows the problem all too well.

"In certain situations, like Oktibbeha County for example our lake, county lake that's a recreation facility, the price went up so high...now we have a lake that's closed down because the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries could not afford to pay the fee that they were asked," said Oktibbeha County Administrator Don Posey.

16th Section earning helps schools purchase buses, repair buildings and address other maintenance needs.

Hoseman office says his duty is to recover maximum returns on 16th section leases for their benefit.
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