Thursday, April 17, 2008
Projects hit bump
By SUE WATSON
Two projects Marshall County had in the works this legislative session in Jackson won’t get the funding needed this year from the Mississippi Legislature, according to consultant Gary Anderson.
“It was a hectic week in the Legislature last week in bond matters,” he told the board of supervisors Monday.
A $2.5 million earmark request for the overlay of the North Holly Springs/Highway 4 bypass hit a snag with the Legislature approving an appropriation for only half a million dollars, he said.
Anderson said the House and Senate reached a compromise last week, trimming a $200 million bond bill affecting economic development and road and highway construction down to about $97 million.
The county has promoted the project in the bond bill as an economic development project, but did not have an industry tied to it, he said.
He said Governor Haley Barbour has taken a stance “if you don’t have a live fish on the hook, don’t do it.”
The Legislative session closes Saturday and must close with a balanced budget, Anderson said, adding that a shortfall in Medicaid funding will likely be taken up in special session after regular session.
The half-million dollars is short by about $1.5 million the total dollars needed to overlay the bypass which will tie Highway 4 and Highway 7 north of Holly Springs into Highway 178 and U.S. 78 at the west exit.
The original cost of the 14-year-old project was estimated to run $7.4 million with the Appalachian Regional Commission putting in $4 million, Mississippi Department of Transportation contributing $2.5 million and the Holly Springs and county government putting in a quarter million dollars a piece from State Aid Program funds. An additional $450,000 was to come from Holly Springs utility relocation monies.
The project ran into money trouble when the entire project was put out to bid with all companies bidding over the estimated cost of the project, due to a surge in oil prices in 2006-07. The state allowed the overlay portion to be taken out of the project and and approved the base/grade/drainage portion with expectation that monies would be available in future years to do the overlay.
But with Toyota coming to Blue Springs and many Toyota Supplier companies moving into North Mississippi economic development and road money was diverted to these projects.
Official reasons for the shortfall are listed as overpasses built to cross Highway 78 and the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad rather than at grade crossings; an shortfall of $1 million borrowed from $5 million authorized by ARC for the project and given to West Point under the Fordice Administration but not repaid; and rising costs of fuel and construction materials.
A March 3, 2008 cost estimate to pave the bypass road came to just over $2 million.
Supervisors expressed concern that the new road bed will deteriorate if not paved - partly due to erosion and partly due to illegal traffic on the road and the running of 4-wheelers up and down the slopes of the road.
Not expressing much optimism at getting easy funding, Anderson said the county can go back to MDOT to see if any money can be found to add to the half a million dollars.
“How long can we hang on to the money?” asked District 5 supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett.
Anderson said the Legislature could sit on the bond money in the bill for another year or two.
“I am thinking, the longer it sits, the more the project will cost,” he said. “We need $1.6 million more for overlay. Maybe we can ask MDOT for $750,000 from its discretionary dollars and then add some local dollars.”
County administrator Larry Hall said State Aid Project funds are harder to switch over to a project but that the Industrial Development Authority has some bonding ability.
Supervisor George Zinn III asked if ARC has any money, but Hall reminded him that ARC has already invested $4 million in the project.
Bennett asked whether some money set aside for an Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center could be added to the half million dollars the state authorized for the overlay so one or the other project could be completed.
Anderson did not believe any such change in direction has much potential for success this late in the session.
“They would have to ask for rule changes in the 11th hour,” he said.
“And there is no guarantee the governor would sign it,” Zinn added.
“There is always danger, if you bring up a project, that it could get everything cut out if it is brought up in a separate item,” Anderson said.
“MDOT has already put $2.5 million in the project,” said Hall.
“That would be more reason not to abandon the project,” said Zinn.
Anderson said the A&D Center bond money under another agency budget is not scheduled to be spent this year.
Following this discussion by the board, IDA executive director Bill Renick obtained a signature needed from the board to finalize the Holly Springs Commons Tax Increment Financing Plan.
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