At left, Hancock County Circuit Clerk Karen Rurh accepts a token of appreciation from Bay St. Louis attorney Brehm Bell.

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Thursday hosted its fourth annual State of the County address at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis.

Board president Blaine LaFontaine spoke about the year's highlights and future plans for the county.

In the past four years, LaFontaine said the county's state of address has "shifted from one of urgency to progress and growth."

"Hancock County is prospering and it's because we have embraced events like today and built partnerships with our cities and other counties," he said. "We have looked beyond our geographical and political boundaries and focused on real issues that we believe impact our constituents and our ability to provide solutions."

For the third year in a row, LaFontaine said the county has spent "less than budgeted."

This year's revenues exceeded expenses by $2.2 million, he added, and the general fund cash balance is $6.6 million.

"Our growth and management allows us to continue to improve roads and bridges, address public safety concerns, and improve recreation opportunities for our residents."

In 2019, LaFontaine said, Hancock County is "one of seven counties growing in population and value in Mississippi."

LaFontaine said that this year, the Phase I expansion project at Buccaneer Park should get under way.

The county also partnered with Bay St. Louis to invest in the Pier 5 harbor expansion, he added.

"For the first time this year, McLeod Park will be self-sufficient in our general fund and our supervisors have approved another expansion for McLeod this year, which is about $1.7 million," LaFontaine said.

LaFontaine said that another important partnership for the county is the one with the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission.

The county "prioritized investing $2 million in dredging at Port Bienville to fulfill our current and future needs that will help retain industry related at Port Bienville and Stennis Space Center."

LaFontaine said that the next administration will be able to implement a new storm water program.

"A recurring theme in local office lately is complaints regarding drainage," LaFontaine said. "Our natural geography and external factors require us to try new ways to address this issue moving forward."

LaFontaine said that the review of the county's water sheds is near completion and that "95 sites have been identified across Hancock County to address these issues."

LaFontaine said that the storm water program will not take place "overnight" and it will take "years to work towards."

"This program however, will allow us to better plan and manage future growth of our floodplains," he said. "46 percent of Hancock County lies within a flood zone. Identifying these water sheds and evaluating our zoning and ordinances will allow us to better manage these areas and protect our properties and investments."

The board recognized LaFontaine for his past four years of service to the board, as he will not be returning to the board in January.

Supervisor Scotty Adam said that LaFontaine has displayed "true leadership."

"When we were elected, we had four new members, he stepped up and accepted the role of board president and has done a wonderful job ever since," Adam said. "And he has a very bright future in public service."

The board also recognized Hancock County Circuit Clerk Karen Ladner-Ruhr for 36 years of service to the county.

Ruhr is retiring at the end of this year.

"36 years ago, she began working at the Hancock County Courthouse," LaFontaine said. "In 2007, she was elected as Circuit Clerk in Hancock County. Throughout the years, I believe she has been a pillar for our community."

LaFontaine said that Ruhr has also served as a leader for circuit clerks throughout the state.

"I believe her work ethic, compassion, dedication to public office in Hancock County has kept many of us public officials over the years," he said. "This is the young lady that always stood up for her beliefs and her county and her state. In one story she told me not long ago, is that she even wrote her name on a ballot against Delbert Hosemann to prove a point to the Secretary of State Hosemann about election practices that she believed was important to voters and circuit clerks across the state of Mississippi."

Attorney Brehm Bell also spoke about Ruhr's service to Hancock County.

"She recruits and she gets people to sign up to vote," Bell said. "She oversees the circuit court and now the county court, which has every criminal case, every civil case in our county. She has to deal with appeals. She has to deal with lawyers every day. She has to deal with judges and the public."

Bell said that Ruhr is a wife, mother, grandmother, and a dedicated Christian.

"When I think about that and her example that she is, a fitting, if you'll allow me to use a scripture, Matthew 25:23, it sums it up, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ And if you know Karen, you know she doesn't do it for the power, she doesn't do it for the praise, she doesn't do it for the pay.

“She does it because she wants to serve and she has served."

Ruhr said that it has been an "honor and privilege to serve Hancock County in the capacity of circuit clerk and deputy clerk."

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