Amphitheater, sidewalks back on table

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Brookhaven alderwoman said an amphitheater would be a”blessing” to her area and the city, but Mary Wilson was short onspecifics of the project that could get state bond funds, ifapproved by the Legislature.

In the recent legislative special session, $25,000 for theproject was added by District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak to a state bondbill. The bill died after lawmakers failed to agree on the overall$123 million bond package and the session ended.

“It would be a blessing to have it,” Wilson said. “It would helpout my area, Ward Three, as well as Brookhaven.”

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Wilson did not identify a specific location for the proposedamphitheater, saying only that it would help across thecommunity.

The project was one of several reviewed last Thursday by asubcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Moak, amember of the seven-member panel. Other projects, includingcomponents of Gov. Haley Barbour’s Momentum Mississippi economicdevelopment package, are expected to be discussed during anothermeeting Thursday.

“It’s basically putting everything out there on the table andletting everyone see what it is,” Moak said.

Barbour has called lawmakers back to Jackson for a June 28special session on the Momentum Mississippi package. Moak expectedthe governor-supported projects and those added by House memberswould be rehashed prior to and during the special session.

“I think everything will be looked at a couple or three times tosee it they stand up,” Moak said.

Barbour, who criticized as “pork” some of the House-addedprojects, recently sent letters to leaders in some communitieswhere project funding could be targeted.

Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill acknowledged receiving a letterfrom Barbour regarding the amphitheater project. He said the letterasked leaders to be understanding about limited funds and the needsfacing the state.

Massengill was unaware of the amphitheater project when it wasadded in the special session.

“This current board has never even discussed that,” the mayorsaid of the project.

Moak said he had spoken with Wilson about the project prior toMassengill’s taking office last year. Wilson said she had notspoken to be the board of aldermen about the project.

“I don’t have a definite point right now,” Wilson said. “It’ssomething we’re working on.”

Moak said the Brookhaven amphitheater would be similar to a bondproject approved a few years ago for Bogue Chitto AttendanceCenter. In addition to the amphitheater, a portion of the fundsalso could be used for renovation of the school’s gym there.

“It’s sort of the same idea,” Moak said.

Moak said the school district had applied for those funds andofficials are working on a local matching percentage. ChanceryClerk Tillmon Bishop said he was working on a letter of supportfrom the county and anticipated a local in-kind match of around$18,000 to $20,000.

“I haven’t gotten confirmation on that number,” Bishop said.

Moak said bond projects are usually handled on a 50-50state-local match basis.

“Nothing is all for free and up for grabs,” said Moak, addingthat in-kind assistance in form of material and manpower or inmatelabor could be counted as the match for the county or cityprojects.

Wilson did not identify a source of local matching funds shouldthe amphitheater project be approved.

“We may not need any local money,” Wilson said.

Wilson cited a number of Brookhaven projects that have benefitedfrom state bond revenue. Among them are a new armory, multi-purposebuilding, a high school renovation and road and bridgeimprovements.

“Without those funds, the arts school would not be where it istoday,” Wilson added.

Wilson said the amphitheater is a “worthy” and “needed” projectand she is supporting the legislative effort.

Also in the failed special session bond package was $20,000 forsidewalk improvements in Bogue Chitto.

Moak said the sidewalk project is like a “cousin” to the Railsfor Trails program, where old railroad tracks are taken up and thearea converted to walking trails. He said the sidewalk projectcould refurbish county-owned rights of way between Highway 51 andthe railroad.

Moak indicated he has been working on the project for some time.He said he sought federal funding assistance when former FourthDistrict U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows was in Congress.

“It didn’t just crop up overnight,” Moak said.

Moak discussed the sidewalk improvements in relation to thebridge project under way in Bogue Chitto. He said the bridgeproject will enhance the link between Highway 583 and Interstate55.

The lawmaker said there was a “packed house” for last week’shearing on the bond projects, although there were not many in-depthquestions raised.

Of the $123 million special session bond package, Moak said said$27 million was targeted for Momentum Mississippi and $68 millionwas for projects supported by the governor. The remaining $28million was for the “litany” of project included by Housemembers.

Moak said representatives of the governor’s staff attended lastweek’s meeting.

“I was glad they were willing to sit there and hear about theprojects rather than making assumptions on their own about whetherthey were good for communities,” Moak said.