Thursday, October 18, 2012
Citizens outraged at stalled grant work
By SUE WATSON
Some Holly Springs citizens, who have complained for years that no progress is being made on two state grants, faced off with the mayor and board of aldermen recently and demanded answers.
According to Kevin Upchurch, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, the city is two quarters behind on reporting requirements on a grant with $80,019 remaining to restore Chalmers Institute and a grant with $443,399 remaining to restore Hill Crest Cemetery. The original grant figures were about $90,000 for the Chalmers Institute project and two grants totaling $500,000 for the Hill Crest Cemetery project.
In an open letter distributed to the mayor and board and others September 22, Marie McClatchy said the “repairs and restoration of Hill Crest Cemetery and Chalmers Institute could have and should have been finished before 2012.”
“The mayor and board of aldermen have an obligation to the citizens of Holly Springs to follow the instructions Mr. Upchurch put in his letter, to use these funds for their intended purpose, to use these funds in a timely manner, and to follow the memorandums of understanding to the letter of the law,” McClatchy said in her letter.
The State of Mississippi gave these funds to the City of Holly Springs in 2007, she said.
Since then, McClatchy said, “large sums of money has been paid for unidentifiable services.”
At the October 2 meeting, Mayor Andre’ DeBerry gave Chelius Carter, president of Preserve Marshall County Holly Springs Inc., 10 minutes to make points before the mayor addressed why the two projects have not been completed.
Carter said the State of Mississippi awarded $90,000 to pay for costs to repair Chalmers Institute, then awarded two grants totaling $500,000 to pay for costs to clean and repair monuments at Hill Crest. The projects are subject to approval of the work plan by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, he said.
Two fund-raisers have been held by PMCHS to begin stabilization on the structure at Chalmers with private funds and donations that supplement a grant from Archives and History to do the work. The city has spent $9,000 from the Chalmers grant but has not done any work at Chalmers, he said.
Carter said PMCHS wants the city to transfer the remaining funds and interest to the non-profit to be used for its intended purpose.
As for Hill Crest, no documents have been produced that show how the funds have been spent since awarded in 2007, he said. No obvious work has been done except about $7,000 worth of work to repair the entranceway gate, he said.
“A wonderful and irreplaceable asset is literally falling apart as we speak,” Carter said.
He cited damage to the metal and masonry and improper maintenance.
Carter questioned whether IMS Engineering should have been hired to work these two projects and whether the city should continue to spend money without doing work on actual restoration of historical monuments and buildings.
Alderman Garrie Colhoun asked if the remaining $81,000 could be transferred to PMCHS.
Attorney Ki Jones suggested a memorandum of understanding between the city and the non-profit might solve the problem if it could be approved by Archives and History.
Colhoun said he is in favor of finding a legal way to transfer all the remaining $81,000 to PMCHS to be used for Chalmers.
DeBerry took a turn to discuss details of the two projects. He said when the city accepted the funds for the Chalmers project, it was contingent on the city owning the property. He said the city cannot transfer funds without title to the property.
“The city does not have authority to restore and use monies on properties it does not own,” he said.
Carter countered that the city had partial ownership until 2009.
DeBerry said the money to restore Chalmers is bond money that it received from the Legislature, which the Department of Finance channeled down to Archives and History with the explicit purpose to restore and stabilize Chalmers. If the city does not spend the money, it goes back to the Department of Finance or to the state, he said.
He said the permission to proceed with Hill Crest Cemetery came from Archives and History September 24. A permit was issued July 2011 by the board of trustees, he said.
“The reason it has not gone forward is it has to be approved by Archives and History first,” DeBerry said. “They have autonomy over this project, which has just been permitted this summer.”
The mayor said he did not intend for the project to go beyond two to three years, but it is not uncommon to close out a project much later.
Alderman Johnnie Ree Bagley-Johnson said she understands the city has to give the agency a report in 30 days to the Department of Finance.
Colhoun agreed he also received a letter to the effect that if a report on the projects, which are in arrears by two quarters, is not made within 30 days, Finance could ask for the return of the monies.
City clerk Belinda McDonald said she sends reports to Finance but was not aware of the letter.
Colhoun said the report was sent to the city in September detailing the balance in the two projects’ accounts and the reporting requirements.
“We have had this money for quite a while and on the Chalmers building, if we spent $10,000, and if we did not have ownership, how did we spend the money?” Colhoun asked.
DeBerry said the money went to the engineers hired for the project to pay for a preliminary assessment on what needed to be done.
Discussion ended, and aldermen voted unanimously to contact Finance and ask if the city can transfer the funds to Chalmers.
The funds for these two projects were established in two legislative bills, SB2988 approved during the 2003 regular session which approved two funds: 2003 Chalmers Institute Repair and Renovation Fund for $90,000 and 2003 Hill Crest Cemetery Fund for $300,000. During the 2004 3rd Extraordinary Session the Legislature passed SB2010 which included the 2004-2005 Hill Crest Cemetery Repair Fund in the amount of $200,000.
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