Holmes County Development Commission Executive Director Joe Rone addresses the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Rone and County Commission Brandon Newsom have publicly argued over details of the coming new Busy Bee site on Interstate- 10. [COLLIN BREAUX | Holmes County Advertiser]

Holmes County Commissioner Brandon Newsom and Holmes County Development Commission Executive Director Joe Rone kept verbally sparring over the expected new Busy Bee location during a Holmes County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Newsom has taken issue with the changing terms of an agreement Busy Bee has for the coming site at the southwest corner of Interstate-10 and the county potentially being on the financial hook if the location does not open in time since the county has taken out a loan for the project. 

“I want everything to be good for the future of Holmes County. When I start seeing hiccups in things in contracts and things like that to where we were told one thing and then we see another one, we’ve only got two more years of funding for this project,” Newsom said. “Interest rates are going to go up next July. We’ve got to renegotiate that. … Things like that are what I’m looking at, what we actually have tangible for that project.” 

Rone, in turn, has defended the Development Commission’s work in bringing jobs and economic growth to Holmes County–and said a contract is in place and Busy Bee is coming to Holmes County. 

“I would like for the Development Commission to not be political,” Rone said. 

Holmes County Development Commission Executive Director Joe Rone addresses the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Rone and County Commission Brandon Newsom have publicly argued over details of the coming new Busy Bee site on Interstate- 10. [COLLIN BREAUX | Holmes County Advertiser]
Newsom said Project Gateway, which Busy Bee is a part of and include separate hotel and retail space, was supposed to be happening based on a letter of intent.

“From my understanding, in the original contract, we expected the Development Commission to handle this this way,” Newsom said. “I think now there’s another contract in place.”

Rone said the letter of intent had an ending date.

“When that was done, we were going to buy the 86 acres and 11.8 acres. We would have spent over $6 million dollars for the property,” Rone said. “What we did is we asked them if they would buy the 11.8 acres and they did. The letter of intent included us buying all of that.”

Rone took issue with Newsom posting information about the Busy Bee project on Facebook in 2022 that Rone said was supposed to be confidential.

Newsom said the “entire (new) contract” is not transparent.

“The contract is between the Development Commission and Busy Bee,” Rone said. “Your name is not on the property. It’s actually confidential.”

County Commissioner Jeff Good and County Administrator David Corbin have glimpsed a copy of the contract since they are on a joint county-commission committee for the project, which met the day before the County Commissioners meeting.

“If you want to come by the (Development Commission) office, I’ll let you look at a copy of the contract but I’m not going to let you take it out and post it,” Rone said to Newsom. 

Newsom has also criticized the time of day Development Commission meetings are held at, which are the third Tuesday of every month at 11:30 a.m.

“How does any normal person, working person, go to a meeting at 11:30 during the day?” Newsom said. “Could I suggest you guys mimic the way our meetings are done? If you have it once a month, hold one during the day one month and one during the night one month.”

In response, Development Commission Board Chairman Doyle Majors said their meetings were held at 6 p.m. “forever and ever” with no attendance. The meeting times were switched to 11:30 a.m. at the suggestion of a Development Commission board member. 

Newsom said while the Development Commission has “done some good things,” he also “believes some of the members of the Development Commission have profited in other ways from being on that commission.”

“I don’t have the proof of that. Again, I’ve got hearsay,” Newsom said. “When I get the information, I’ll bring it up. We’ll make it public whenever I get the information that I’ve been asking for.”

Rone said the Development Commission has offered the county to get out the Busy Bee project, provided the Development Commission takes over.

“Never will the county have to pay another dime towards that property. We’ll take that loan over. We’ll take every bit of it over. We got the money to do it but what we’re asking for is 100% of the taxes off of that property for the next number of years,” Rone said. “It would be a bad decision by the Board (of County Commissioners) but if y’all are not feeling good about this and you don’t think the Busy Bee is coming and you think it’s a problem, we’ll take the problem off your hands but we want the taxes off of it for a long time.”

The Board of County Commissioners did not take Rone up on the offer.

“It’s not the fact that the Busy Bee’s not coming,” Newsom said. “It’s just not coming at the distinguished date you said.”

Rone said Newsom is welcome at any time to visit the Development Commission office and get answers “to any hearsay.”

“We’re as transparent as anybody can be,” Rone said. “You’ve just caused a lot of headaches for a lot of people.”

Rone said the county will have issues, such as fire departments not being able extinguish fires if they don’t have funding for fuel, if they “don’t figure out a way to make money.”

“That’s what we do. We’re the salesperson for Holmes County,” Rone said. “We always talk about how poor the county is. Well, maybe it’s because we need to look at what are the other counties doing for revenue?” 

County Commission Chairman Jeff Good said everyone at the meeting wants to make Holmes County better and transparency can be helped with communication. 

“I think we’re moving in the right direction now,” Good said. 

Rone presented a 2023 impact report on how the Development Commission has benefitted Holmes County, including $41,761 in annual property tax revenue–which includes the industrial park on Highway 90, Weather Kings Portable Buildings, and businesses at Midtown Plaza.

The Busy Bee service plaza is expected to bring in more than 133 new jobs and approximately $9.7 million in combined tax revenue for the first few years of operation.

The Development Commission’s cost to Holmes County, according to the report, is $1.57 per resident–$30,795 in total. 

“We’re not costing the county very much and look what we’re bringing in,” Rone said.

While Newsom had previously mentioned potentially updating the charter for the Development Commission, which was created decades ago, no such action was taken. 

Newsom said there is not language in the Development Commission charter allowing for the Development Commission to remove a board member if they committed a felony.

Majors said the Development Commission would definitely take action to remove a board member in such a scenario.

“I hate to see (Holmes County and the Development Commission) be torn apart. There’s no reason to have it torn apart,” Majors said. “It’s been doing good all these years. … I hate to see all this conflict going on. I wish we could stop it and let’s get back to business.”

The one project the Development Commission partnered with the county on “has been the one project that’s caused all this conflict,” Majors said.

“We should have never partnered,” Majors said. “Then we wouldn’t be having all of this we’re going through tonight. We partnered because we wanted the county to be a part of it. We’ve got the funds for everything else we needed.” 

County Commissioner Earl Stafford said he was with Newsom.

“As a board, when we borrowed this money and went into this contract, we were doing it for Holmes County,” Stafford said. “We wanted Holmes County to grow. This Busy Bee is a big part of what Holmes County is going to grow to be. … I can guarantee you this Board will come up with some way to do this note or whatever, even if it’s a different set of funding. We will do what we got to do to bring the Busy Bee and to make Holmes County a better place.”

At the end of the discussion, Newsom said he “hated that all of this had to fire up.”

“We’ve got a light at the end of the tunnel with the contract, as Mr. Rone said,” Newsom said. “I’m glad we’ve finally started to get on track with what we started out to do.”

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