By: SUE WATSON
Progress is being made toward the opening of the WIN Job Center in Byhalia.
A temporary office for a Northwest Mississippi Community College employee has been opened inside Town Hall in Byhalia while remodeling of quarters for the WIN Job Center is finished, according to Phil Malone, mayor of the town.
The WIN Center has been on the table since July 2016 and the Town of Byhalia offered the use of a building, once the headquarters of Northcentral EPA, for $150 a month lease to Marshall County. The figure is to help defray the cost of utilities, but the town offered to lease the building for $1. The town was chosen as a low bidder on an open procurement bid.
The town waived the utility costs, agreed to provide janitorial services and said it would make improvements required to make the space functional, such as furniture and equipment, desks and chairs and filing cabinets that it had on hand.
The City of Holly Springs also submitted a proposal to be the site of the WIN Job Center. Holly Springs asked the county to pay half of the operational costs at the Job Innovation Center for fiscal year 2015-2016 or $42,000, according to the minutes of the Marshall County Board of Supervisors. That is, the county and city would split the costs to operate the city’s facility equally. The city’s proposal did not include that any portion of the facility’s existing staff salaries, a vehicle, gas and oil, travel expenses or building maintenance be charged to the county.
Northwest will choose the staff and operate the WIN Job Center and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) will also provide staffing, according to Jennifer Casey, WIOA (Workforce Investment Opportunity Act ) programs manager with Northwest.
All funding for and operation of the center on a day-to-day basis comes under the auspices of NWCC, Malone said.
Suzanne Lafever, career navigator with Northwest, moved into a temporary office in Byhalia Town Hall two weeks ago and will be working with other Northwest programs until the WIN Center opens, Casey said.
Malone said two people have come in and asked to use the WIN Center.
“We asked them to come back,” he said. “They (the public) know it’s in the works.”
The WIN Job Center will be located at 225 Highway 309 South beside town hall.
Progress on opening the facility, which is connected by a breezeway to Byhalia Town Hall, has been delayed because of quotes that overshot the money available for the remodeling, the mayor said.
“We (the town and NWCC representatives) have met numerous times to look at the building,” Malone said. “It’s government. It’s a very, very slow and drawn-out process, not by my choice. It takes forever to get answers.”
He said the town essentially gave the space for the center. The abundance of space was made possible when Byhalia purchased the facility, once occupied by Northcentral Electric Power, so it could have abundant space for growth of programs and projects.
The WIN Job Center will be the first project to go into the facility.
Malone added that the town has nothing to do with hiring and firing of WIN Job Center staff. That is all done by NWCC and MDES.
Malone said quotes had been obtained for handicap assessible ramps and for modifying the bathrooms but the quotes came back higher than money available to do the modifications.
He talked with Bill Renick, with Three Rivers PDD, about the problem of insufficient funds to modify the quarters.
“We put $7,700 of our money on modifications and Three Rivers in the last 30 to 45 days called me about the quotes being too high,” Malone said. “He (Renick) came up with an additional $10,000 to help do the remodels.”
According to Casey, Three Rivers added $10,000 to the college’s contract with them to help specifically with renovation costs. Once the renovations are complete, the town of Byhalia will send an itemized invoice to Northwest for reimbursement of these costs, up to $10,000.
“This thing has gone on way too long,” the mayor said, and that is why the town offered a temporary office in town hall while remodeling is being completed.
Other requirements that must be met include installation of fire protection equipment and installation of phone lines. Joe Fant will be responsible for getting the phone lines ready, he said.
Malone is not happy with the delay in opening the center.
“I agree with everybody else,” he said.
The positive side of the picture is that the location of the WIN Job Center in Byhalia will make it convenient for Marshall Countians to access the center instead of driving to Southaven or to the Senatobia campus. He said more traffic in Byhalia would also improve the town’s sales tax picture. And it will be convenient to Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park.
“It will be of value to the whole county,” Malone said.
Casey said Northwest has staff hired and equipment ready and waiting to be moved into the new space as soon as it is ready.
She added that there will be a rollout of the program, complete with a ribbon-cutting when the center opens.
“We are very excited about serving Marshall County and look forward to providing job services to its citizens,” Casey said. “We are also grateful to the Town of Byhalia for providing this space for the new center.”
She said Northwest also is working on the opening of one additional center.
Meanwhile, anyone who needs services with the WIN Job Center can go to the center in Southaven at 7320 Highway 51 North (662-342-4002) or to the center at the Senatobia campus at 4975 Highway 51 North (662-562-3351).
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