Lincoln County’s $6.6M stimulus fund has supervisors pondering projects
Published 5:00 pm Sunday, February 27, 2022
For the first time in a long time – or maybe ever – county supervisors across the nation have a windfall of funds landing in their laps.
Now they have to decide what to do with it all.
It might sound easy to spend millions dollars, but with the eyes of constituents focusing on what “needs” to be done (and each one has a different opinion on those needs), Mississippi supervisors know for a fact good roads mean success no matter what else they might do.
All of the Lincoln County supervisors have roadwork on the table when it comes to the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill that designated $130 billion for local governments. Mississippi will receive more than $1.8 billion in funds, with Lincoln County receiving $6.6 million.
Road work is never complete in any way; once a project ends, it’s almost time to begin again on the same roadway. Or that’s how it seems. “I think you’ll see that all of us want to use funds to fix our roads,” District 4’s Eddie Brown said. “Every single one of us has road and bridge work needed.”
At first, supervisors couldn’t use the stimulus funds for roads. Only responding to COVID-19 impacts, offering premium pay for essential workers, and investments in water, sewer or broadband qualified.
But thanks to a last minute change in January to the ARPA, counties can spend money on roads as part of what’s called a “revenue loss” stipulation. The revenue loss of Lincoln County stems from the fact COVID-19 mandates made it hard to hire companies and people to do necessary road work. That’s still a problem now: With so many counties and cities having the money to spend, there aren’t enough companies available to do the jobs – or have the time to schedule them.
The change to allow road work has been “a blessing for counties,” Lincoln County Engineer Ryan Holmes said Thursday during a docket and payroll meeting of the supervisors. “It’s a good opportunity – a really good opportunity – for counties to get a lot of needed things done.”
County Administrator Daniel Calcote agreed that the final rule changed the landscape for counties. “Cities would have it easier because they could do things like run cable, or fix lights, but counties don’t have stuff like that,” he said. “We have roads. A lot of roads.”
Because the new final rule only occurred in January, supervisors were never able to build a road map of needed items. They had no idea, really, what the money could actually be used for, much less how to document the spending. Therefore, supervisors weren’t able to plan ahead and produce a list ready to go once the money arrived.
Now that they do, supervisors have to act fast.
One decision they made Thursday when they approved hiring Butler Snow as a consultant in navigating the ARPA’s regulations for spending. Representative Parker Berry spoke Tuesday to supervisors about Butler Snow’s services, which offer eligibility determinations, assistance with reporting, contract and resolution drafting and compliance documentations.
The second decision they made was to listen when other county officials discussed their concerns. During the supervisors’ Feb. 22 regular meeting, Sheriff Steve Rushing mentioned to the board that jail and courthouse renovations were desperately necessary. “If you are needing suggestions on how to spend the money, that’s my suggestion,” he said. “We have got to fix those issues either now or later, but they have to be done. And I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”
Brown agreed. “These repairs have got to be done,” he said. “That’s just something we have to do. As much as road work is needed because we are short on state aid money and road funds – we’re always short. There is never enough to keep up the county roads.”
However, Brown said he did wish that the county and city could work together somehow to purchase at least one new ambulance for the hospital. “You know, the hospital asked for help for a new ambulance, and I was really thinking that would be a good thing to do for every district in Lincoln County – all the people of the county could benefit from having that new ambulance. It’s just a shame we can’t come together somehow and make that happen.”
As good as that sounds, supervisors seemed wary of running out of money before all the things are the lists to be are tackled.
“Once you give some over here and you give some there and you’re giving something everywhere, there’s nothing left for you to use on the things you need to use it for,” said District 1’s Jerry Wilson. “There’s never enough money for when you need it. So, I’m against anything, everything. We need to use it on our roads.”
However, he did say he thought the ambulance idea was a good one, mentioning he even voted to approve the motion months ago when Brown first brought it up to vote. That motion failed to get a majority.
Wilson and District 2’s Jerry McGehee both agreed that a formal plan needs to be adopted. As District 3’s Williamson said, “We needed to know estimates – for everything – and we have those ready,” he nodded to County Engineer Ryan Holmes. “We need to get with Ryan and discuss all our needs [in each district] and come up with a plan.”
Wilson showed his support to this thought. “Yes, we have to do it right and get down to getting these projects started.”
Calcote said his only concern with putting the money “all in roads” is that the sheriff said those repairs are needed soon. “If we don’t deal with them with this money, we are going to have to have a tax levy or a bond issue, but we’re going to have to deal with them.”
District 3’s Nolan Williamson asked if there were any estimates on that yet, with Calcote replying that the sheriff was working on that this week.
Falvey suggested they keep an open mind about any work that doesn’t include road work, saying “let’s get with Ryan on all we are talking about because we might not need as much for roads. Until we get a price from Ryan, we won’t know that. Let’s get our numbers ready on everything and make a decision from that.”
Holmes further suggested supervisors think on getting at least one road project going as soon as possible. “Try to get a project out as quickly as we can,” he said. “At least we’d have that going right now [while we discuss further on how much to spend and on what].”
Falvey liked this idea, saying that though supervisors are in the planning stage, they at least now know what they can spend the money on and will have a consultant guide them on finer points of documentation.
Holmes said he hopes to meet with each supervisor in the coming days to discuss their district’s need. He’ll then work with Calcote to incorporate other county needs and then make a unified list to present to supervisors.
The final decision on exactly what the Lincoln County supervisors plan to do with the stimulus funds could occur on or soon after the March 7 supervisor’s meeting.
And that’s when the real work will begin.