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Supervisors and local legislators hold workshop on funding for county

Senator Angela Hill (center) discussing funding needs with the group

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors hosted a workshop with the local state legislative members. State Representatives John Corley (District 106), Timmy Ladner (District 93), Stacey Wilkes (District 108), and State Senator Angela Hill (District 40) attended the workshop held at the county government building in Picayune.

The agenda for the meeting was to discuss the funding needs of the county and how the legislators might be able to work to obtain funding for the proposed courthouse annexes in Poplarville, repair and replacement of county bridges, and economic development resource.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin told the group that he was aware of two categories of money received by the state of Mississippi from the BP oil spill settlement with one referred to as the “Governor’s” pot and the other “Legislative” pot.

Lumpkin said, “Through contact with the Governor’s office, basically what they told us is there’s $90 million dollars in the Legislative pot and it is to be divided up in the upcoming session (legislative). As far as funding that could go into a building project, that‘s the only funding I’ve been able to identify. There’s not a lot of grants for buildings out there. I was hoping there was going to be some leftover CDBG money from Katrina, because there was at one time, but it got dumped into the Port of Gulfport. The last report I saw showed $38 million in community facility money that was unspent, but I was told that it also got allocated to the Port of Gulfport.”

Lumpkin added, “The whole report showed about $200 million Katrina money not being spent as of March 31.”

Representative Tim Ladner asked Lumpkin, “Did the governor offer you all any money out of his pot of BP money?”

Lumpkin replied, “No. I was told there was none left to allocate out of that, only the Legislative pot was available.”

Ladner continued stating, “I think Pearl River County can get some of that money, and I think I can help, but I don’t think you’ll get any for the annex (building project). You can get for some roads and bridges, and I’m part of the coastal delegation because I represent Hancock County too, and I’ll tell you right now, I couldn’t vote for it to go to the annex.”

District 3 Supervisor Hudson Holliday asked, “Why not?”

Ladner replied, “Because I’d be selling out one of my coastal counties and Hancock County would be on me about it harder than anybody. That money was designed to go to the three coastal counties, and we know that the three coastal counties are not going to get all of it. “

Holliday asked, “Then who is?”

Ladner responded, “We don’t know. It’s hard to say.”

Senator Angela Hill stated, “There’s been talk that the money may not even be spent and put in the trust fund.”

“There’s about 50 hands in that cookie jar right now with 300 different ideas,” Ladner added.

Representative Stacey Wilkes said that it is important that all the coastal counties work together to keep it on the coast because all 82 counties will be fighting for it, and if it gets split up statewide, it’s not going to be enough to help anyone. Wilkes also said that the money has to go toward economic development related items.

Ladner said, “There are 24 members of the legislature in the coastal delegation in the three coastal counties, and if you don’t get it (annex funding) through them, you won’t get it through anybody and I know for a fact it won’t get pass the “smell test” for the coastal delegation.”

Ladner said that if he went and asked for $3.5 million dollars for road and bridges, he’d probably get some interest on that. He told those gathered that anything related to economic development has a good chance to get funding.

County Engineer Les Dungan (standing) explaining the county bridge problems

County Engineer Les Dungan told the group that Pearl River County has 165 bridges that the county is responsible for and 35 of those bridges are supported by timber pilings and that’s where the problem is right now. Of those 35 bridges, the county has a plan utilizing state and federal money to address about 15 of those bridges. Dungan said some of those 15 bridges are being worked on today and some of those are ready to go, but waiting on funding. That leaves 19 or 20 bridges that falls squarely on the shoulders of the county to use their local funding to deal with it. Dungan estimates that the county needs about $4 million to address the 19 or 20 bridges.

Dungan said those 35 bridges will be looked at by MDOT consultant inspectors in the next two years and the county is taking measures to do temporary repairs to stay ahead of the game to avoid shutdown of the bridges. Dungan also said the group that MDOT’s consultant inspectors will shut down some of these bridges after inspecting them even though he does not agree with the MDOT’s assessment or methods to be very accurate.

“We have a bridge problem. All of our old bridges have timber pilings and we need to find funding to be working on replacing or repairing those bridges, “ Dungan stated.

Dungan said the county has 863 miles of roads that are maintained by the county without state funding and these roads are in bad condition and have deteriorated to the point where they need maintenance now. He estimates that it would take about $8 million dollars to bring those roads up to par.

On the subject of a dedicated resource for economic development, Board President Sandy Kane Smith explained that the county had allocated $150,000.00 in its budget and the city of Poplarville recently put up $15,000.00, but the city of Picayune had not yet committed any funding.

Smith stated that the board had discussed a 1 cent sales tax to fund economic development. The tax, as explained months ago during a series of town hall meetings held by the supervisors, would be on prepared food and hotel/motel usage. Smith asked the legislators their thoughts on that approach for funding.

Hill said, “When the county first started talking about economic development, there was a lot of excitement and momentum, but once a tax was mentioned, it changed things and people lost interest.”

Wilkes added, “When I was out campaigning, I met a lot of people on fixed incomes, people barely making it, and any kind of tax to them is still a tax, and they are not for it. It puts a burden on them.”

Holliday responded, “We felt like we had to have a permanent funding source. At our town meetings, I asked people how many would be willing to pay another penny for a biscuit or another dollar at Southern Char on a $100 dollar meal? And not a person said they were against. The economic development person should be on the phone, going here, going there, and promoting this county. What we all want is someone to be out there promoting Pearl River County and we didn’t want to put it on the taxpayers. It’s going to cost and I will tell anybody, I don’t want to put the burden on the backs of the homeowners and landowners. We thought this was a great way to fund the person for economic development because most of the money would come from outside people. The bottom line is it ain’t free, and we felt like we need to set this up to have around $250,000.00 or more to have what we need and have someone to represent Pearl River County and to meet with all these people to advertise the county.”

District 2 Supervisor Malcolm Perry added, “I’m against taxes, but I see both sides of it. I really don’t have an opinion either way on the sales tax, but I do think, even without the sales tax, it’s something that everyone in this room needs to find a way to make it work without raising taxes.”

Representative John Corley said there are other ways to look at how to fund economic development, such as in the Hattiesburg Pine Belt area, where it is funded 60% by private businesses. Senator Hill added that Alabama formed a non-profit that is funded by businesses for their economic development.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the legislators told the supervisors they would do what they can in the upcoming session (January) to find funding to support road and bridges which in turn could free up money for the county to look at building improvements needed in a much lower scale than the proposed $13 million dollars for the annex buildings.

As for economic development, there was not a definitive direction stated, but all agreed to continue to find time to meet and work together to get that initiative in place as soon as possible.

Representative Stacey Wilkes discussing the workshop.