$1 million grant secured for Baldwyn City Court renovations

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Attending Monday’s announcement of major grant funding to improve the safety and security of Baldwyn’s municipal court building were, from left, Baldwyn Police Chief Troy Agnew, Rep. Tracy Arnold, Baldwyn Mayor Michael James, Rep. Jerry Turner, Baldwyn Municipal Court Clerk Mariea Burress, Sen. Chad McMahan, Judge Tommy Comer, John Haynes, Sen. Daniel Sparks, Rep. Rickey Thompson, probation officer Gene Gilley, Rep. Shane Aguirre, Baldwyn Fire Chief Sam Parker, Rep. Randy Boyd and Mississippi Northern District Transportation Commissioner John Caldwell. News photo/Jason Collum

BALDWYN | Badly needed and long-overdue renovations to Baldwyn’s City Court building will soon begin to be realized as Baldwyn Mayor Michael James, along with members of the Mississippi Legislature and municipal court officials, announced a major grant Monday for the work needed.

The City of Baldwyn will receive a $1 million grant approved through the state Legislature to finally improve and renovate Baldwyn’s court building.

James had approached Rep. Jerry Turner and Sen. Chad McMahan a few months ago requesting help in securing funding for repairs and renovations to the former Baldwyn City Hall building. The building has been used specifically for City Court since City Hall moved onto Main Street in April 2018, but the old building was ill suited for that much traffic. Restroom space is extremely limited, there has been water damage to the building through leaks, storage space is inadequate and there are a multitude of security concerns. City Court Judge Tommy Comer asked the Board of Aldermen in a meeting last October to make repairs to the building, and to consider adding staff to assist Baldwyn Municipal Court Clerk Mariea Burress. The building’s status had been discussed by the Board as far back as 2018 but board members had balked at making major changes due to budgetary concerns.

Now, money will not stand in the way.

“I’m thankful for everything each of you do,” James said in addressing the legislative contingent on hand for the announcement Monday. “I know everybody’s got their hand out. But you guys take care of home and you don’t know how much I appreciate it. A million dollars (for this project) is a big deal.”

Sen. Chad McMahan said he was pleased to help in the matter as it is another step in Baldwyn’s longtime renewal process.

“This million-dollar investment – and it is an investment of the people’s money in this facility –  is another piece of that overall puzzle of what’s taking place here,” said McMahan, R-Guntown, who had taken a few moments to commend city leaders for the improvements made in the last decade on building and keeping Baldwyn a vibrant community. “When the mayor shared this need with me and representative Turner, I said we had to make it a priority and Representative Turner had a whole lot to do with the force behind it. That’s what seniority will get you in Jackson.”

Rep. Turner applauded the teamwork that helped bring the grant funding for the project and thanked other representatives and senators on hand for their assistance.

“That’s what Mississippi has to do because our resources are limited compared to what other states have, and if we are going bring our standard of living up like everyone else around us, we have got to concentrate on regional efforts, like this,” Turner said. “And that’s what our community does.”

For Comer, the grant will mean a court system that operates the way it should with a safer and more efficient facility.

“People don’t realize the number of people who come to municipal court in the City of Baldwyn,” Comer said. “It’s over a hundred people a month on most occasions. You add that up in a 12-month period and that’s a lot of people coming to court and being exposed to what city government is all about. I think it’s very important that that we have a nice facility for the comfort and particularly for the safety of the people that come here. I think the mayor’s effort to get this money is going to really enhance what people think of this this city and I think they’ll be very proud of this facility when they are exposed to it.”

Comer also thanked James for his work in seeking out the funding.

“I’ve been judge here since 2013 and Mariea and I have struggled and tried to make this court work and we think we have but whenever we needed something, Mayor James has always been here to back us and to helps out in any way he could,” Comer said. “This is the frosting on the cake. This is going really make this court a bright spot for the city of Baldwyn.”

For her part, Burress, who is also serving as the president of the Mississippi Municipal Court Clerk’s Association, is ecstatic that renovations and building improvements will finally be made.

“It is such an honor to work for a City that appreciates you,” Burress said. “When you have a judge and a mayor who appreciate your hard work – and they don’t just say it, they actually listen to you and they go out and try to make your job better –  this is just like Judge Comer said, it’s the icing on the cake. It empowers me to work better and even harder for the city and to be more professional with my job.”

Burress said the city has drawn up plans with two engineers and are working to finalize those plans – a move made much easier now that the funding will be in place. Those plans will be presented to the Board of Aldermen once they are ready.

Burress said the plans will help the facility be seen and viewed as a professional municipal court facility with even such a small added touch as having signage on the building indicating it is a court building. Currently there is no such sign other than computer printout notes on the windows. She said having adequate bathroom facilities for the public and even private facilities for staff, and improving the security issues in the building, will be a major relief.

Burress, like Comer, thanked Mayor James for pursuing the matter to obtain needed funds when it was apparent they wouldn’t come from anywhere else. She also said the funding means the court can make changes and improvements they had only dreamed of before.

“Mayor James took a chance on hiring me seven years ago as I didn’t have any municipal experience,” Burress said. “I appreciate him doing this and even now, with today’s announcement, this is more (funding) than we even imagined. So, with that I know the mayor will make the best decisions for all so whether it be expansion or whether it be modifying what we have, I know it will be what is best for all.”