Gazebo Gazette

In a mid-April message from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office asking the Mississippi School Boards Association to forward this release to all School Board Members, Superintendents, Business Officers, and School Board Attorneys:

“As a result of the COVID-19 situation, the Secretary of State’s Office has been working with the Office of the State Auditor to draft a policy recommendation to present to the school districts regarding 16th Section annual rental payments. Schools will be facing requests from lessees regarding annual rents and school boards do not want to run afoul of the law or have a negative finding on their audits by the Office of the State Auditor stating they have violated §29-3-57 Miss. Code Ann. Below is the policy recommendation of the Secretary of State and the Office of the State Auditor. As the school board is the day-to-day trustee, it is at the discretion of each board whether to adopt the policy. Please note that the resolution needs to be in place before the rent is due and before any penalties and interest accrue because at that point the penalties and interest become a debt to the school district and cannot be deferred or waived.”

The local School Board will adopt a written resolution covering rent deferments during the State of Emergency, as declared by Governor Reeves on March 14, 2020.

The resolution will only apply to deferment of the annual rent payment. The Mississippi Constitution does not allow for reduction of rent or forgiveness of rent.

The resolution must require the lessee to request in writing a deferment of rent and the reason why deferment is needed.

The lessee must be in good standing with the terms of the lease at the time of the request.

The deferment period will expire 45 days after the State of Emergency, as declared by Governor Reeves on March 14, 2020, or subsequent extension of the State of Emergency, is lifted or expires.

If requested in writing, a  payment plan may be allowed so long as all rent and taxes are current by the time the next annual payment is due.

The resolution needs to contain language that from the date of the resolution forward late fees, penalties, and interest that have not yet accrued are waived for the annual rent due during the State of Emergency.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the Office of the State Auditor at 601-576-2800 or the Public Lands Division of the Secretary of State’s Office at 601-359-6377.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the practice of setting aside section number 16 in each township for the maintenance of public schools. The United States Congress established the Mississippi Territory in 1798.

In 1803, Congress enacted laws providing for the sale of all land south of the State of Tennessee, and made provision for the reservation of Section Sixteen in each township for the support of public schools. Congressional action granting statehood to Mississippi in 1817 also called for the survey of land in the state and further provided for the reservation of Section Sixteen in each township for the support of public schools. Sixteenth Section Land is also known as Public School Trust Land.

The State of Mississippi owns over 640,000 acres of trust land known as “16th Section Land.” Trustees manage land held in trust — and 108 Mississippi public school districts serve as trustees for 16th Section Land, with the Mississippi Secretary of State serving as the supervising trustee.

The 108 trustee school districts raise public education funds by leasing 16th Section Land, which is partitioned and classified for different uses. Classifications include agricultural, forestry, farming, hunting and fishing, recreational, residential, industrial and mining. The local school districts advertise the land through notices and newspapers — and the highest bidder wins the lease. When renewing a lease, the land is appraised at fair market rental value. The lessee is responsible for paying the taxes as if the lessee owned the property.

In Harrison County, only the county school district and the Pass Christian School District have 16th section land.