Thursday, February 2, 2006

County officials updated on projects

Staff Writer

Accounting, legal issues and financing for Katrina recovery efforts were among items taken up in Jackson at a recent Mid-Winter Conference. All Marshall County supervisors, Larry Hall and Susie Hill attended the meetings.

In the general session, various agency representatives provided updated information, according to Hill.

“They talked about Katrina things and how federal dollars would be spent for things like education, rebuilding and repairing roads and social services,” she said.

Gov. Haley Barbour’s chief-of-staff, Charlie Williams, related how the state will hire an accounting firm to keep track of every federal dollar spent on recovery to assure accountability for the use of the funds, Hill said.

Homes damaged outside the flood zone, as established by the government, will be eligible for some federal assistance when private insurance and other private sources of funding did not pay for all the damages, according to Hill.

To qualify for federal assistance the homes have to be owner-occupied with insurance in place at the time of the disaster. The federal dollars in such cases will be used to subsidize homeowners’ losses when private insurance does not pay 100 percent of losses, Hill said.

Standards (building codes) for rebuilding will be set by government and FEMA and homeowners must maintain flood insurance thereafter, according to Hill.

Total available federal dollars are $2.75 billion. Allocations include $740 million to rebuild and repair highways and bridges; $550 million for social services; $750 million for K-12; $95 million for higher education; $125 million for law enforcement and $125,000 for additional workforce training, Hill said.

The VA Hospital in Biloxi will get $300 million toward restoration and $45 million will go to restore the Veterans’ home.

Funding for 911 service was also discussed particularly since the 911 surcharge on cell phones is distributed differently than for land-line phones.

The $1 monthly surcharge for 911 service goes to the local 911 while the surcharge on cell phones is distributed using the zip code and four digit 911 number, Hill said.

Local 911 agencies receive only 70 cents on the dollar from surcharges to cell phones and the cell phone company keeps 30 cents to put toward building cell towers, Hill said.

Hall, county administrator, attended inventory and depreciation workshops on the 2004 mandated GASB 34 record keeping system.

“The GASB improves accountability and compliance; it is all about asset management,” Hall said.

Administrators and road managers attended the state auditor’s workshop which delved in-depth into regulations.

They also attended a Highway Watch seminar where local government workers are taught to look for the out-of-the-ordinary when doing routine tasks.

Highway Watch is a part of the Homeland Security program, Hall said.

Another issue affecting the entire 82 counties is garbage collections and billing which was brought up at the supervisors’ meeting.

Three ways counties can finance household garbage collection are charging a garbage fee; levying a 4 mil ad valorem surcharge and a collection fee; or levying 6 mils in ad valorem taxes and charging no fee.

Hall said the ad valorem tax would target property owners omitting renters who also generate garbage.

An aerial digital mapping project of the entire state is underway by the department of environmental quality, Hall said. The project, expected to be complete in July, will make aerial maps of all locations and properties available to the public at no charge. The maps will be available on-line.

For further information on the aerial mapping project, contact Cragin Knox, administrator of the Mississippi GIS Council, at 601-961-5502.

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