Finding the money to pay for aging infrastructure is one of the main concerns of Mississippi municipal leaders. MPB’s Evelina Burnett spoke to city leaders from around the state at the Mississippi Municipal League conference in Biloxi this week.
MML executive director Shari Veazey says 205 cities and towns - more than a thousand city leaders - are at this year’s conference. She says many are facing leaner budgets, due in part to depressed sales tax revenue. Meanwhile, their cities' infrastructure - transportation and utilities - continue to need repair and updating.
"They're all dealing with crumbling, aging infrastructure - streets, water, sewer - and revenue streams have gone down, particularly in the recession that we've are just starting to come out of," she says. "So the league spends a lot of time trying to figure out ways to maybe get grant funding available at the state and federal level for these kinds of improvements they need to make."
She adds: "Paving costs have soared over the last 10 years. Asphault's gone up about 300 percent. So for a small town to pave a major street is a very expensive proposition."
"My major issue right now is infrastructure - roads, bridges, streets and drainage," says Kenneth Broome, mayor of Utica. The small Hinds County town also lost its only grocery store about six months ago. "That hurt our sales tax real bad. That was one of our major employers in the town [too], and we lost it."
In north Mississippi, Shannon mayor Ronnie Hartwell says they were able to find grants to partially pay for some needed improvements on their sewer system.
"We still need to some work on our streets and water lines - it's something all the time to keep everything up," he says.
A bill that would have created a grant program for water and sewer improvements died in the last state legislative session, but the municipal league's Veazey says she expects it to be re-considered in 2016.
The group is also supporting a push for a comprehensive transportation funding bill, which they hope will include money for cities and counties.