Thursday, July 23, 2009
Northcentral leaving Byhalia
By SUE WATSON
A plea from the Marshall County Board of Supervisors Monday and a resolution requesting Northcentral Electric Power Association to remain in Byhalia may have been too little too late.
Northcentral has intentions of relocating its central office and equipment to the intersection of Hacks Cross Road and U.S. Highway 78, said general manager Kevin Doddridge. The cooperative has 20 acres purchased for construction of a new $13 million facility behind Flying J on Hacks Cross, he said.
Several members of Northcentral’s board of directors appeared with Doddridge before the board of supervisors to answer questions. Also in attendance were Sen. Bill Stone, Rep. Kelvin Buck and Rep. Tommy Woods of the local delegation.
Northcentral could be in a new facility in 14-15 months, Doddridge said. He cited lack of space as the primary reason for moving the facility. The location chosen was selected because it is more centrally located near the association’s customer base, he said. Northcentral serves about 28,000 customers (metered) systemwide with about 10,000 of those customers residing in Marshall County. The remainder of the service area includes part of Tate County, DeSoto County and parts of the city of Southaven, Doddridge said.
For Marshall Countians, the move of the industry will mean loss of tax base, possible loss of jobs and possible increase in rates, said District 3 Supervisor Keith Taylor.
Doddridge said about half of Northcentral’s workforce lives in Marshall County and the other half in DeSoto County. He said debt service on the new facility is not expected to affect rates that much, even though it will be a part of the operational costs.
Northcentral has been thinking about consolidation and moving out of its space in Byhalia for possibly 10 years, he said.
For part of the cooperative’s history it operated out of Senatobia for 10 years, moved to Coldwater, and then acquired a portion of the old Mississippi Power and Light Co. territory and moved into its offices in Olive Branch and Byhalia, he said. Byhalia became the central office at that time because it was the larger area.
The Olive Branch satellite became landlocked as the city grew around it and started to become unsafe to move equipment in and out, Doddridge said.
“It is difficult for us to justify maintaining two facilities,” Doddridge told supervisors, who asked if the cooperative would operate a satellite facility in Marshall County.
He said Northcentral will save operating money on crews. He estimated the loss to the town of Byhalia to be about $75,000 a year in business.
Northcentral thought about consolidation as the Olive Branch property became landlocked and as the association outgrew its space in Byhalia. Northcentral then decided to build a one new facility to position itself for future growth, taking into consideration current low interest rates and cost of construction, Doddridge said. The center in Byhalia has about 40,000 square feet of space and the new facility will have double that under one roof, he said.
Taylor, a former alderman of Byhalia, urged Northcentral to reconsider its decision saying he respects the decision but “when something leaves Marshall County it’s a concern.”
“The bottom line is we don’t want you to leave,” he said.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett was unhappy that as growth is coming to Marshall County, the power association is moving to DeSoto County.
“They are running out of room over there,” he said.
Doddridge said the new facility will be located just five or six miles from its present location.
“Northcentral is a work in progress,” he said. “I hope we are not burning a bridge behind us.”
“This board of supervisors wants you to stay in Marshall County and to get people to come to Marshall County,” Bennett said.
Byhalia Mayor Phil Malone, perhaps, said it best.
“It’s going to be a hole in Byhalia, no question about it,” he said. “We are here to encourage you guys to stay. We appreciate what you’ve done for us.”
Malone said when the first murmurings of leaving Byhalia were heard years ago, the murmurs went over everyone’s head.
“We react when somebody starts kicking the dust,” he said.
Supervisor Willie Flemon asked Doddridge if the association would consider building a satellite center in Marshall County.
“We never say never,” he said.
Bill Mobley, executive director of Marshall County Industrial Development Authority, expressed disappointment, yet acceptance of Northcentral’s decision.
“I’ve won and lost a lot of industry,” he said. “It is a loss for Marshall County and a gain for DeSoto County. It is an industry. At least you are not going to Tennessee. I understand you have to do what’s best for your stockholders. The economic impact is much greater than $75,000 a year for Marshall County.”
Association board member Pat Woods of Byhalia said the decision to build the facility in DeSoto County is about one board meeting or so away.
“We have another vote to get a contractor to get a ‘not to exceed price,’ ” he said. “The decision was accelerated about two months ago when the board voted to get a price.”
When Bennett asked if “this is a done deal set in concrete,” Doddridge replied, “It is not set in concrete but we are so deep in the process, we would pay a price to come to a grinding halt or to reverse fields.”
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