Road money well short of needs
Engineer Larry Britt reported to the Marshall County Board of Supervisors recently that funding for State Aid is inadequate for road and bridge maintenance needs.
He said funding remains the same while costs of materials keep increasing.
“State Aid funding has not increased over 20 years, but cost of construction has,” he said. “We are trying to impress on them (the Mississippi Economic Council), that the old money did not produce enough.”
When dollars for road and bridge maintenance are handed out, State Aid gets about 22 percent of the money. He said State Aid wants to work with the old formula rather than a proposed 90-10 split.
“The fund is not keeping up with construction costs,” Britt said. “If the counties and cities both get behind it, we’ve got a much better shot. The formula works if it stays the same (22 percent). We’re just treading water. It’s just enough to keep up with overlays and bridges.”
Britt advised supervisors to make its list of priorities for programming road and bridge work.
Two projects, a box culvert at Bethlehem Road and one on Skelton Road are programmed together and a third box end culvert that is washing out on old Highway 4 West was rejected by State Aid, because it has to be reprogrammed under another project number.
“Hopefully, we will get more money,” Britt said.
County consultant Gary Anderson reported that state Senator Willie Simmons, chairman of the Highways and Transportation Committee, said it is time to raise the gasoline tax from 18 cents on the gallon to 25 cents.
“That would be a big help for counties if it passed,” Anderson said. “I think Simmons is looking at a 25 cent gas tax that would keep us in line with line with surrounding states (gasoline taxes).”
State revenues down
Anderson reported on falling state revenues in 2016. State tax collections are down and there is already a reduction in inventory tax taking place. The elimination of the first 3 percent on the individual income tax is to go into effect in 2018 which will mean less tax revenue will be generated. Anderson summarized shortfalls in state projected revenues for 2016 – a $43.9 million shortfall in October/November and a $14.9 million shortfall in September.
“Now, they hope that Christmas sales taxes will bring revenue up,” he said. “But, more people are buying things online. So, I don’t see Christmas being a big rescue.”
The Joint Tax Committee is looking at the tax structure.
Anderson said there is talk of introducing bills based upon a new concept – a tax giveaway for producers and a tax on consumers, through an increased sales tax.
The governor, in his November 15 budget recommendations, did not address any of these tax changes, he said.
“The legislators say they will probably follow suit with the governor and not address changes,” Anderson said.
If revenues are depressed in December, Anderson said he expects the governor may make adjustments early in the 2017 session. He could institute another round of agency cuts or could dip again into the Rainy Day Fund, Anderson said. The governor would have to ask the Legislature for approval to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.
Since revenue is stagnant, Anderson said he expects the governor to ask the Legislature for some of the Rainy Day Funds again.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said citizens are saving money, both state sales taxes and shipping costs, by purchasing on the Internet. And the goods are delivered to the door.
Some ways Marshall County is affected when agencies take a hit are that funds that once were available for economic development through the Mississippi Development Authority are drying up. And the state has stopped borrowing money (via bonds) for infrastructure.
“MDA took a big hit last year,” said Justin Hall, director of the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority.
“It’s like cutting off our ability to grow the economy by not putting tools in their hands,” Anderson opined. “We haven’t felt the full brunt of it because the 3 percent income tax has not taken effect. They may delay it going into effect (in 2018).”
He said if the gas tax is increased it would spur new construction.”
“Sounds like they are reluctant to do that,” said supervisor Charles Terry.
“It’s all running away and it will get down to Democrats and Republicans (politics),” said Bennett. “The Legislature is in favor of small government. They will go into the MAEP formula change this year.”
“You have a lot of county liability that can roll down from Jackson,” Anderson said. “There is a dark cloud that will impact where we are next year. You can see it coming, because that’s where we are.”
“You can get ready to bite the bullet,” said Larry Hall. “You are going to have to run it yourselves.”
FEMA pays up
Larry Hall reported the county expects to receive about $1.2 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement funds. The county will be out between $120,000 to $200,000, after all reimbursables are in, he said.
There is still a good bit of recovery work to be done (from the December 23, 2015, tornado) through the use of monies from church groups and donated labor.
The board authorized a month-to-month contract for ambulance service with MedStat while the county discusses a third ambulance to help cover the county in rural areas like Chulahoma and Potts Camp.
Bennett suggested the county partner with other counties like Tate and Benton to share costs of adding a third ambulance.