Funding woes threaten Pearl River agency

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An organization used by Lincoln County to pursue grant-fundingopportunities and monitor local water supplies is in danger offolding in approximately two years if extra funding is notforthcoming.

The Pearl River Basin Development District, a public improvementassociation of counties along the Pearl River that has providedLincoln County with a host of grants for decades, is nearing thebottom of its bank accounts after years of steadily decreasing fundbalances, said executive vice president Mike Davis.

Without extra support from the Legislature in the 2009 sessionor increased membership dues from the district’s 11 counties, Davissaid the organization will run out of operating funds by June2010.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Basically, the monies that we’re getting from our counties isless than the expenditures we’re making each year,” he said.

If the PRBDD is dissolved, Lincoln County would lose a fundingavenue that has provided more than $1.1 million in grants since thecounty became a member in 1968.

The district has had a hand in such projects as the creation ofLake Lincoln, the development of the Lincoln County Multi-PurposeFacility and the monitoring of local aquifer levels. The county iscurrently utilizing a PRBDD-provided $250,000 grant spread over athree-year period for several improvements to the multi-purposefacility.

Davis said the PRBDD collected about $950,000 from its membercounties last year for budget demands of $1.3 million, requiringreserve funds to make up the difference. More reserve funds wouldhave to be used to close the gap this year as well, he said.

To reverse the monetary downfall, Davis said the district plansto ask the Legislature for $750,000 when the 2009 regular sessionconvenes in January. If the attempt is unsuccessful, the district’slast option could be to ask its member counties for twice theamount of dues currently received.

County Administrator David Fields said Lincoln County’smembership fee to PRBDD is slightly more than $58,000 – equal to aquarter mill of tax collection – per the district’s request. If theLegislature turns down increased funding, the district will ask itscounties for half a mill – more than $116,000.

The district has not officially asked its member counties forthe increase, hoping instead to receive legislative supportfirst.

Local legislators voiced support for the organization, but wereunsure if they would be able to help in a budget year expected tobe extra tight.

“I certainly don’t want to lose them,” said District 39 Sen.Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven. “I would certainly support theirefforts, but we’re about $700 million short – it will be a verytight budget year.”

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, was doubtful thatany state funding could be spared next year.

“Quite honestly, when January gets here, I think everybody isgoing to have to get in line,” he said. “It’s an awfully goodprogram, and we need to make sure they stay viable, but I don’tknow what the budget is gonna look like come January.”

Of course, budgets on the local level are tight as well. Iflegislative funding is withheld, supervisors will have to weigh thepros and cons of spending a further $100,000 or losing anoften-used source of grant money.

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop called the PRBDD an”asset” to the county, pointing out that whatever fundingopportunities lost in the district’s possible dissolution wouldhave to be made up for with county funds.

“With these days we’re in, grant funding is not readilyavailable,” he said. “We use them as often as they have money – ifthey tell us they’ve got grant funding available, we’ll apply forit.”

Without the district, the county might also have to contract forthe monitoring of local water levels.

“The county is not in the water-providing business,” Bishopsaid. “We have no aquifer guys.”