/To fix bridges, counties forced to look at raising taxes and borrowing

To fix bridges, counties forced to look at raising taxes and borrowing

Nearly 500 state-owned bridges remain closed across the state, and many counties like Marion cannot afford to make the necessary repairs. While legislative leaders are working behind closed doors to decide if or not to provide financial relief for these counties, county officials can’t wait. They have a tight deadline to approve their budgets for the next fiscal year which starts on October 1. The number of state-owned bridges could increase by more than half this year. This means that cash-strapped counties will have to decide between raising property taxes or borrowing money. Doug Rogers, Jasper County supervisor, said that while our goal is not to raise property taxes, “I don’t believe that’s something we can afford this year.” While I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a bond issue to fix these bridges, we aren’t sure what we will do. “I do know that we don’t have the funds right now to fix all the bridge issues we’ve got,” Terry Broome, a Marion County supervisor, said. There are 11 bridges closed. “We have another inspection scheduled for December, which will likely double the number. We are out of options.” Preston Billings, Bolivar County supervisor, said that 17 bridges have been closed and that he is still looking for funding. “We were able to find some funding in-house, but many of our bridges are still closed. We are getting ready for budget sessions and will be discussing all options.” Jackie Whittington, who is a supervisor in Amite County where 22 bridges have been closed, said that although we found some money in-house, others remain closed. “We hope there will be some (state) money allotted for rebuilding some of these bridges. “But at this point, i really don’t know the solution.” The bridge crisis is a result of years of delaying maintenance at county level, inability by state legislators to pass comprehensive infrastructure funding packages, and unresolved political turf battles. All this culminated in April 10, when Gov. Phil Bryant directed the state transportation department close to 100 bridges throughout the state. Bryant’s order came in response to federal government inspection mandates, which were created in 2017 after the Federal Highway Administration found that hundreds of timber-pile bridges in the state were unsafe for travel. They had also been improperly inspected for many years. Government officials are not limited to the local level. Talks have started about a special legislative session to provide additional revenue for counties in order to repair bridges. Bryant suggested in July that a special session could be held in mid-August to generate new revenue for counties for bridge repairs and roads. After weeks of negotiations between legislative leaders and Lt. Governor. However, negotiations between legislative leaders and Lt. Gov. Philip Gunn about such a proposal are still ongoing. No special session was called as of Friday afternoon. To influence the thinking of legislators, the boards of supervisors from the state signed this month the same resolution asking for the Legislature to divert a portion the state’s internet tax collections – recently permitted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling – to counties to fund infrastructure improvements. The governor is putting off calling a special session, and county budget hearings will begin later in the month. This means that supervisors from across the state are likely to consider tax increases or adding more bond debt. Derrick Surrette is the executive director of Mississippi Association of Supervisors. “I think most counties realize that they must do something.” They can’t sit back and wait. At this point, there isn’t much federal or state assistance. The fact is, regardless of whether the Legislature does something or not, life continues and they have to look after their bridges._x000D