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Bigger budget target put on SW Mississippi

While sacrifice and suffering are certainties once the statespending plan for 2011 is finalized, it appears at this early stagethat Southwest Mississippi has been asked to shoulder adisproportionate share of the budget cut burden.

In Gov. Haley Barbour’s executive budget recommendationsreleased Monday, three local facilities were suggested for closureor removal from Southwest Mississippi. The Mississippi AdolescentCenter and the Brookhaven Crisis Center were targeted for closurewhile the governor’s recommendation makes another attempt torelocate the Mississippi School of the Arts to the MississippiUniversity of Women campus in Columbus as part of a merger with theMississippi School for Math and Science.

These unfortunate possibilities would negatively impact an areathat fought long and hard to share in the economic developmentsuccess enjoyed by other regions of Mississippi. The moves wouldput Southwest Mississippi further behind in any regionally orientedrace toward prosperity.

They would also be hurtfully ironic given Barbour’s previousstatements regarding the need for more economic developmentopportunities in Southwest Mississippi.

The arts school, MAC and crisis center represent opportunitiesthis area has been able to capitalize upon in the past throughcommunity, regional and legislative cooperation. Area leaderssupported efforts to locate the crisis center here because it isdesigned to serve clients from across Southwest Mississippi whilethe arts school and the adolescent center open their doors topeople from all parts of the state.

From a particularly Brookhaven standpoint, this community wouldfeel the economic hit of almost 200 jobs lost and loss of theeconomic impact provided by the millions of dollars used foroperation of the three state facilities.

The arts school has 65 employees while the two mental healthfacilities between them provide 120 jobs. The arts school nowoperates on a $2.9 million budget, the MAC $4.9 million and thecrisis center $1.9 million.

A recent study on the economic impact of the arts schoolindicates it creates or sustains 135 jobs and contributes $6million to the Brookhaven economy in various ways. Economic dataregarding the MAC and crisis center’s value is not known, but evena cursory consideration of the impact of almost $7 million inyearly spending would suggest that it is significant.

Few, if any, areas of the state were left untouched by thegovernor’s proposals.

But given its relatively small population and comparativelylimited economic development success, Southwest Mississippi is inno position to sacrifice more than its fair share as part of astatewide budget solution. However, by seeking the closure of threeimportant state facilities, that is what the governor’s budgetrecommendation is asking this area to do.