WILLIAMSON – At a special meeting of the Mingo County Commission held Monday morning, commissioners responded to reports that the commission has been funding the Ambassador Christian Academy (ACA) during the county’s current economic crisis.
Camilla Ellis with the Circuit Clerk’s Office asked the question during a discussion on the county budget. Ellis stated, “I have a question. There are a lot of rumors out there about the Christian school (ACA) and what the county pays out to the Christian school … People are saying, ‘When did the county become a funder of schools when you have a public school system?’ I don’t even know what you pay out. I am just telling you the rumors and everyone would like to know.”
Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith responded stating, “I am here to tell you. It is a fair question … I appreciate her boldness to speak … For approximately $300,000 the Board of Education (BOE) was willing to sell to the county the Coalfield CAP building, the weight room/ track building, Williamson Middle School, what was the Williamson Junior High back in my day where ACA is currently at, and the parking lot and were willing to take that in payments. The county commission by law cannot do financing. We approached the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority (MCRA) and they can do the financing. They are acting as a conduit for the commission …”
Smith continued stating, “It is almost completely paid for. The millions of dollars that the facilities are worth are unreal. They lease the property back to the county commission. The county commission has had the utilities, which are separate for each building… The County Commission cannot do a lease with the Christian school. We released that portion of our lease for the Christian School to the MCRA. The Christian school has a lease where they pay rent to MCRA. In our lease agreement with MCRA, we pay them approximately $29,000 a year for the lease. I am going to tell you, that amount covers the payment for the asset. In the lease agreement it says, that when it is paid off, that property is the property of the county. The county will have that asset. Since it is going to be our property at the end anyway, the county has kept the utilities with regards to that building…”
“Actually, we have gone to the MCRA and the MCRA is going to put the lease for the utilities in their name. That is in the process of being done. Has the county commission given money to the Christian school? No. Has the county commission paid utilities for that building because it is going to be our asset? Yes. Do they pay rent to the MCRA? Yes. That is the situation in regard to the Christian school. It is a decision that we made and a decision I stand by as a commissioner … You have all had schools in your community that have closed and you have seen what has happened. To me, that is economic development. They are employing people up there that are teachers and staff and giving children an opportunity,” Smith concluded.
Commissioner John Mark Hubbard spoke next stating, “That facility was purchased when the economy was not as it was today and we thought it was a good investment for the future of our county… I don’t think anybody in this room would have thought eight years ago that an industry that was so vital to our nation would be in the financial situation that it is today. That industry has been the backbone of this county for the history of this county…”
The discussion continued with commissioners explaining that ACA has completed renovations to the building that has increased the value of the asset for the county. Commissioners urged the public in the future to contact them personally with any questions or concerns they may have. Commissioner Hubbard stated, “Let me say this …The only thing that I would ever ask; if people ever want to ask a question of us, when have we not answered a question? When have we not ever made ourselves available? When have we not ever taken a phone call? That is the only thing that kind of bothers me. My number is in the book. If you can’t see me, call me.”
(Courtney Harrison is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)