August 31, 2018 11:06:06 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
When the Mississippi Legislature this week approved funding for 128 projects throughout the state, $1.75 million came to projects in Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties.
But it was the absence of a couple of incomplete projects that didn't receive funding that raised eyebrows in Lowndes County -- the county's horse park and the Terry Brown Amphitheater in Columbus.
"Everybody got a little something," said Sen. Chuck Younger (R-Columbus), a member of the 24-person Senate Appropriations Committee which recommended the projects to legislators. "We did get money for a road in Lowndes County and Oktibbeha County got some road money, too. Hopefully, we'll get more in (January's regular session)."
The projects were part of Senate Bill 2002, which outlined how $750 million from the BP oil spill settlement would be distributed. The 128 projects were funded from previous BP money and other funds that had not been allocated.
Funded road projects
Lowndes County received $1 million to extend Charleigh Ford Road from Artesia Road to Mims Road.
"It gives us a road all the way down the west side of the industrial park," said Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Harry Sanders. "That part of the road had been just gravel, so this completes that part of the road, which is something I asked Chuck to request."
The legislation also provides $750,000 to pave Longview Road in Oktibbeha County, which has been much debated in recent months.
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said the money is welcomed, although he does not believe it will cover the cost of paving the entire road.
"We need all we can get on that," Montgomery said. "It's a start in the right direction. We have been pleading to the state and I thank them for listening."
Montgomery said the $750,000 will be added to the $886,000 to county has set aside for the project.
"We're still trying to get with (engineer Clyde Pritchard) on the numbers, but (paving) the ends are going to be the most expensive parts," he said. "I think the money will go to doing the ends."
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said the new money could also be used to secure matching funds that would complete the project.
"If we could use it for a bond payment to pave both ends, we could see if the project gets picked up for federal funds," she said.
Part of the road sits in District 1 and part in District 4.
Local projects left out
Meanwhile, two ongoing projects in Lowndes County didn't receive funding from the legislation.
Work on the Terry Brown Amphitheater on The Island has been delayed since the spring 2017 after the completion of Phase 1, which primarily included the stage. That $3.35 million phase was funded by state bonds, but the state has not issued bonds for the past two years.
Phase 2, which includes perimeter fencing, seating, ticket booths, turn styles, concession stands and restrooms have been delayed due to a lack of funding.
"Another $2.5 million will get it to the point where it's a fully-functional facility," said Kevin Stafford, the city's engineer. "But if you wanted to really do the things you need, paving the parking lot, sidewalks and some other things, you're probably looking at another $3.35 million."
As for the horse park, Sanders said the second phase to complete the project has been funded through dividends from the county's hospital trust fund.
Even so, that project was one "of about six" projects Sanders asked Younger to present to the Legislature.
"If we did get some more money, we'd use it building stables and holding pens and some of the other things you'd need if you were holding a big livestock show or something," Sanders said.
Sanders also requested money for the county's planned sports complex west of the river, which supervisors say will cost roughly $2 million.
Younger said no one from the city asked him to request money for the amphitheater.
"To tell you the truth, I thought the money was only for roads and bridges," Younger said. "That's what I pushed for, the road and bridge projects."
Senate Appropriations Chair Eugene Clarke, (R-Holly Springs) said that there about 450 recommendations and that the Senate did give road/bridge projects preference.
"Every legislator walks around with a project or two in his hip pocket," Clarke said. "I think most of the ones that got through were for roads and bridges, but not all of then."
Meridian, for example, was provided $4 million for a planned children's museum.
Speaking to The Dispatch, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said he discussed the amphitheater with Rep Jeff Smith (R-Columbus).
The representative told the mayor the amphitheater wasn't considered infrastructure.
"My understanding is that's why (the amphitheater) wasn't considered," Smith said. "I'm disappointed, but at the same time I'm grateful for the funding we do get from the state."
Bond bill coming next year
Younger said he believes funding for the amphitheater and other projects will be available in January when the Legislature holds its regular session.
The prospects for that are pretty good, Clarke said.
"It's an election year, if you know what I mean," Clarke said. "We'll definitely have a bond package this year."
Rep. Smith, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which puts together the bond package said he'll support bond for local projects.
"If Chuck wants me to help, I can help carry the House in January," Smith said.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]