Thursday, December 11, 2008
Board considers funding strategy
By SUE WATSON
With a global economic squeeze gripping the world, the Marshall County Board of Supervisors met with other officials to plan a strategy for next year’s Legislative session and other agency requests.
Infrastructure dollars will be paramount for the unforeseeable future, they said.
And locally, outreach will go to existing industries and businesses in need.
At Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park, Exel is expanding by adding about 100 new parking slots for 18-wheeler trailers, according to Del Stover with Marshall County Industrial Development Authority (IDA).
Supervisors were encouraged by the news.
“They’ve been running pretty steady,” said supervisor Keith Taylor.
Other industry construction at the park will call for extension of the sewer lines, Stover said.
Supervisors and IDA officials said they expect slow growth for a while.
“Things have slowed down because of the economy,” Stover said. “Everybody’s sitting back waiting to see what the economy will do. Everybody's sort of hunkered down and waiting.”
IDA executive director Bill Mobley, on his first official day at work, said other business executives across the state are also reporting a slowing of growth.
“Right now we need to hang on to what we have,” offered supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett. “We would like to keep what (businesses) we have and hope they will expand.”
Mobley said IDA will begin visiting all existing businesses “to see if there’s anything we can do to help them stay in business.”
Stover then moved on to the topic of finding the rest of the money needed to build a waste water system in an old residential section at Highway 72 and Cayce Road. Another situation needing a solution is acquisition of the parking lot surrounding the old GEM building in Byhalia’s industrial park.
Attorney Kent Smith said the county can seek to buy the property through imminent domain, if the owners do not agree to work a deal with the county. IDA and the county want to get the building ready for a new tenant with several waiting in the wings.
Later in the meeting, county consultant Gary Anderson and state Rep. Kelvin Buck discussed several funding concerns.
Counties are waiting to hear from the Mississippi Development Authority on how $43 million in federal dollars coming into the state in July 2008 would be distributed to alleviate house mortgage foreclosures and a problem with vacant homes.
The city of Jackson was expected to receive $11 million and the cost of administering the funds would absorb up to 10 percent, Anderson said. Agencies are considering putting $20 million into the Workforce Investment Fund at various planning and development districts (PDDs), he said. If the PDDs distribute the $20 million, the money will be funneled to counties through local grants, Anderson said.
In the documents, Marshall County is mentioned with 19 foreclosures of houses documented in 2008, he said. The county would have to seek its share through Three Rivers PDD, Anderson said.
“The program is on the fast track, so we should hear how they (Mississippi Development Authority) will route the money,” he said.
County administrator Larry Hall said he has heard that the monies will not be distributed equally among counties but go to counties with high foreclosure rates.
“I think the counties would be better represented if the money is kept on a local, rather than regional basis,” he said.
“I think it is better kept on the local level and with local banks servicing the loans,” Anderson said. “We have to make sure we get our portion for residents here.”
He said Congress wrote the legislation giving wide latitude to states in how to structure the program.
Bennett asked who decided that Jackson would get $11 million - virtually one-fourth of the appropriation.
Anderson said a host of financial institutions had provided data which determined which areas had the foreclosures.
He further explained that the federal government places responsibility for the Community Development Block Grant funds in the hands of the governor - Haley Barbour. The state governors rightly have influence and the final decision on how CDBG funds are distributed and naturally keep their authority intact on final decisions.
“Wherever we have to go to get this money, we need everyone on board with the one direction we shall take on that,” he said.
The county needs to create a list of infrastructure needed most before president-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated, Anderson said, since Obama’s transition team is leaning toward implementing an infrastructure improvement program to stimulate the nation's floundering economy.
The current $43 million is bailout money from the Bush administration that was authorized in July this year, he said.
“I think we want to be ready for whatever Obama’s infrastructure plan will be,” he said. “We need to plan to be more competitive in creating new industry and likewise watch for what will happen in the state Legislature in January.”
Rep. Buck said he has seen the reports on the governor’s tax study and his budget outlook which anticipates a 4 percent cut in funding of most state agencies and a 24 cents a pack tobacco tax.
“The question becomes, what dollars do we normally get and what will the tax reimbursements (to local governments) or bonds be?” he said.
Buck said he will focus on legislative requests already in the “pipeline” - an Alcohol and Drug Rehab facility for Marshall County and ongoing local and private requests.
He does not expect the Legislature to take up many new requests in the 2009 session.
“There is going to be a big debate, probably, when it comes to tax issues,” he said. “No question, our delegation will work together and try to make things happen here. In line with that, I rode over the county during Thanksgiving. I see a lot of positive things going on and can attribute that to the team effort (local delegation and local officials). Our hat’s off to you guys.”
Anderson added that there may be a Congressional effort to pass a healthcare plan next year, and the state should be watchful of that.
“I think we ought to load the wagon up,” said supervisor George Zinn III. “I don’t think we could get too many projects.”
Anderson advised that the county should carry lots of small projects to the Legislature rather than a few large ones.
He added that Mississippi is about the third worse state in terms of unemployment.
“Some in the Legislature think if we brought some bond projects forward we could get some people to work,” he said.
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