Panola Stimulus

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 30, 2009

Panola cities, schools ask for $145 million from stimulus

By Billy Davis

“I know I’m shooting for the moon,” Judy Sumner, Como’s mayor, said this week of her town’s wish to nab millions of the $819 billion economic stimulus plan that passed the U.S. House Wednesday night.   

Yes, she is. And she’s not alone.

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Panola County’s municipalities, two public school districts and its county government are requesting $145 million for infrastructure improvements, most of them sewer and water upgrades, and road and street resurfacing.

“I’m telling people not to get too excited because, right now, nobody knows what’s coming,” warned Trey Hamby, a program specialist for North Delta Planning and Development.

Batesville-based North Delta Planning, a non-profit agency, aids cities and counties in a seven-county region. The requests from the seven counties, and their cities and schools, add up to $473 million, Hamby said.

The influential Delta Regional Authority, based in Clarksdale, submitted $1.6 billion in projects, Hamby also said.

But Mississippi is poised to get only $673 million from the stimulus plan, with about $425 million earmarked for transportation and infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal reported, via a state-by-state analysis, this week.

“My motto is, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ So we asked for a lot,” said Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye. The city’s wish list totaled $10 million, he said.

The shoot-the-moon wish list that Sumner prepared totals $5 million for water and sewer improvements, and street resurfacing, in the cash-strapped town. Resurfacing streets tops her list followed by updating worn out water lines and extending sewer lines west and east to the city limits.

“Right now the sewer lines don’t run to the end of our city limits,” she explained.

In Sardis, Dye said replacing the city’s aging sewer lines, some of which date back to the 1940s, tops the town’s priority list.

The Panolian reported Tuesday that the City of Batesville, working with city engineers, approved a wish list of water and sewer projects, and road improvements, for a total of 24 projects across the city.

Following that story, The Panolian contacted other municipalities this week to inquire about their plans.

What the stimulus plan means for towns like Sardis, Como and Batesville depends on what you read, since only five percent of the bill pays for road and bridge improvements, according to the Wall Street Journal. Only about one-fifth of the $825 billion will go to infrastructure improvements.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is being touted a plan to jumpstart the ailing economy, but critics argue that parts of the spending bill, like $400 million to study global warming and $325 million to fight sexually transmitted diseases, should be spent on creating jobs.  

But at least some funding for other projects, such as sewer and water improvements, could find their way to Panola County through federal agencies such as Rural Development, part of the Department of Agriculture, and state agencies such as the Miss. Development Authority,

“All the major agencies have submitted their plan to receive some of the money, but nobody knows how the money will flow,” said Hamby.  

The stimulus bill passed the U.S. House 244-188 on mostly a party line vote. It now moves to the Senate, where it’s expected to pass this week with Democrat support.  

Mississippi’s House delegation split its four votes 2-2 on the measure. Bennie Thompson and Travis Childers, both Democrats, voted for the bill while Rep. Gene Taylor was one of 11 House Democrats to vote against it.

Rep. Gregg Harper, a Republican, voted against the stimulus plan.

Childers represents the 1st Congressional District, which includes Panola County.

“On three different occasions I have voted against authorizing vast sums of money to bail out Wall Street from its own recklessness,” Childers said in a prepared statement. “However, I felt compelled to support legislation that will uplift Main Street and help get the hard working people of Mississippi back on their feet.”

In the press release, Childers estimates that the stimulus bill “will provide billions in stimulus funding for Mississippi.”

North Delta Planning, which mayors Dye and Sumner credited for helping their towns, also got a plug this week from Pope Mayor Ricky Briscoe – but for a different reason.

“North Delta Planning has gotten us grants for sewer projects, so we’re in good shape and there’s no need right now for any more help,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe also credited Panola County’s road department for working with Pope (population: 250) to make needed road repairs. Pope surrenders tax monies to the county in exchange for the road work.

“If we got the stimulus money,” the contented mayor said, “I don’t know what we could do with it.”