April 1, 2017 10:11:56 PM
Local projects counting on state funding may have to wait until next year.
The Mississippi legislature adjourned earlier this week without approving a bond bill, which would have provided funding for projects throughout the state.
In Columbus, the Riverwalk extension, amphitheater, city hall and proposed children's museum at the Elks Club building on Main Street, are awaiting state funding.
Senate Bill 2281, which passed the Senate on a 49-2 vote and the House of Representatives on a 102-11 vote with eight absences/abstentions and one "present" vote, died in conference Saturday.
However, as District 39 Rep. Jeff Smith, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, noted, legislators are likely to return to Jackson for a special session after failing to approve a budget for the Mississippi Department of Transportation and Attorney General Jim Hood's office.
"There's not any funding, as we speak," Smith told The Dispatch Thursday afternoon. "The governor, if he calls a special session, may add to the call capital improvement bonding, which would open it back up for consideration."
A House-amended version of SB2281 included $1.3 million for city hall's renovation, which was completed earlier this year. The bill also included $300,000 for exhibits in the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau-sponsored children's museum.
Also included in the bill was the creation of the "2017 City of Columbus - Columbus Air Force Base Improvement Fund" in the state treasury. How much money would have gone into the fund is unclear -- Smith said funding would be determined at a later date, had the bill passed.
The city hall renovation is a $1.9 million project, with $1.5 million in state funding and a $400,000 match from the city. The children's museum is estimated to cost $3.5 million to $5 million.
Mayor Robert Smith said the city will take a "wait and see" approach while waiting for the legislature to reconvene. He said he's already talked to Rep. Smith about the bond funding, and is hopeful that some money will become available through a special session.
"If anybody can make it happen, I think Representative Jeff Smith can make it happen," Mayor Smith said. "Being the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he has a lot of power."
Rep. Smith said funding for city hall, if the legislature passes a bond bill in special session, would reimburse the city for expenditures on the state-approved project.
"For city hall, they went ahead and were continuing, rather than waiting for the legislature to meet since we only meet once a year," Smith said. "This would reimburse them a good bit of money they expended in anticipation of getting that money from us.
"They will get it," he added. "It will just be through the special session or it will be in January."
Funding for city hall and the children's museum would have been allocated to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to be distributed out for the projects, Rep. Smith said. He said MDAH may have some funding available to help the city pay for the projects but expressed doubt that it could cover the amount that might have come through the bond bill.
"I'm sure they'll have some money left over, but I don't know if it's enough for that," Smith said.
Smith said the legislature's primary focus upon returning for a special session will likely be crafting budgets for MDOT and the AG's office. He said he's spoken with Gov. Phil Bryant about a bond bill, but the governor will have the final power in setting the special session's legislative agenda.
"I would be dishonest if I said I haven't already talked to him," Smith said. "I will have a little input, but it's ultimately his call."
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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