Funding woes threaten Pearl River district

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A timetable for possibly closing a regional development agencyoften used by city and county officials for grant fundingopportunities sped up Monday with the loss of a major contributor,forcing local leaders to more quickly consider searching for newassistance.

If the Pearl River Basin Development District – a publicimprovement association of counties along the Pearl River – isforced to close, Lincoln County will save almost $57,000 in annualcontributions, but it will lose a source of grant funding that haspaid out approximately $325,000 since 2007 and more than $1 millionsince the county joined in 1968.

The district also provides the county with an annual recreationgrant of $4,000, as well as water table analysis and otherservices. It also was instrumental in the creation of Lake Lincolnmany years ago.

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“I hate to see them go from the standpoint of the potential -they could help us with projects (in the future),” said LincolnCounty Administrator David Fields. “For the last three years it’sbeen very good for us.”

PRBDD is losing nearly half its funding with Hinds County’sdecision to leave the district, taking with it more than $400,000of the district’s almost $1 million annual budget.

PRBDD Executive Director Mike Davis said the district willoperate with no problems this year, but will be looking at a “closethe door type situation” beginning July 1, 2010. The district hadhoped to acquire around $750,000 from the Legislature this year,but it was left out of the budget.

The only other option for funding, Davis said, is to ask membercounties to double their contributions from a quarter-mill to ahalf-mill. He said preliminary discussions indicate some countieswould opt to pull out of the district rather than double theirpayments.

“They just don’t have the money themselves to double theirpayment to the district and that’s basically about what it wouldtake,” Davis said. “I don’t see things improving a whole lotbetween now and this fall when we make presentations to theLegislative Budget Office.”

Over the last few years, PRBDD has funneled the most localassistance to the development of the Lincoln County Multi-PurposeFacility. District grants to the facility include a 50 percentmatching grant of $250,000 for the construction of the developingRV park and $72,500 for erosion control.

Facility manager Quin Jordan said he would seek fundingassistance for the complex from Southwest Mississippi Planning andDevelopment District and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife,Fisheries and Parks if PRBDD closes next year.

“We are starting to look outside for conservation dollars forour landscaping and erosion control,” he said. “If PRBDD does ceaseto exist come June 2010, there will be a tremendous hole left inthe system for obtaining grants that will benefit Lincoln andsurrounding counties.”

Brookhaven Recreation Department Director Terry said PRBDD hasbeen a big help for both the city and county for years. Not onlydid the district help pay for the new walking trail at City Park,but has helped build smaller structures and provide assistance withengineering and even horticulture, he said.

“We got all kinds of help,” Reid said. “We just had to make aphone call. We’ll miss ’em.”

Fields said one of the county’s biggest concerns about thepossible loss of PRBDD is the condition of county water tables. Thedistrict conducts annual examinations of local underground watertables and provides county supervisors with detailed analysis.

“We’ll have to have some kind of environmental engineering firmor something do that,” Fields guessed.

The district has been in a state of decline even before thelegislative budget crunch and the loss of Hinds County, Davis said.With the district’s expenditures exceeding revenue for severalyears, a number of employees – faced with the possibility ofPRBDD’s closure – have moved to the private sector and to otherstate agencies, he said.

Despite Hinds County’s pullout from PRBDD, the district stillplans to spend approximately $300,000 there by the end of 2009,Davis said.