In Mississippi’s small rural communities, money is always tight. Small municipalities and counties equal small populations, limited ad valorem tax dollars, and a fraction of sales tax proceeds brought in from larger communities.
In Carroll and Montgomery counties, budgets have always been tight. Officials do work to secure various grants and low interest loans to help stretch budgets, but extra money for luxuries, it is just not there.
A couple of weeks ago, Carroll County received news that it had been awarded $1.2 million in grants to rehabilitate nearly a dozen sites in the county designated as Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) sites. The sites are mostly shoulders of roads that experience severe washing and erosion. Great news? Right?
The issue lies with the 30 percent matching funds from the county required to receive the grants -- $300,000 if all 11 sites are rehabilitated. Carroll County, like most small counties, does not have that kind of money in their budgets, and so the board of supervisors elected to prioritize certain sites that need rehabilitating the most. The matching funds will be paid for from each beat, based on the number of sites located in that beat.
Beat 1 Supervisor Jim Neill told me that some of these sites have really been affected by washing and erosion and are in great need of being repaired, especially those sites located at the edge of a bridge. So supervisors, in an effort to take advantage of the federal dollars available for the project, are doing what they can to find the necessary funds to rehabilitate eight of the 11 sites.
After the board decided which sites the county would rehabilitate, they began to discuss all the infrastructure improvements and repairs needed throughout the county and the cost to do what needs to be done. With current county revenues, the county would be unable to repair or replace all the bridges recently closed by federal inspectors and repair all the county roads currently in poor condition.
So far, the state legislature has not found a solution in dealing with the state’s aging roads and bridges. In fact, according to the Mississippi Economic Council, of the 118 bridges closed across the state in April, 57 of those bridges remain closed. Five of those are in Carroll County.
There are three options for the Carroll County Board of Supervisors:
1. Do nothing. Leave closed bridges closed and use available funds in the budget to continue to maintain open roads and bridges.
2. Wait for the state legislature to step in and assist counties fund bridge and road repairs. After waiting for a designated time without the state finding a solution, refer back to option one.
3. Pay for repairs with increased revenues in Carroll County from a tax increase or borrowed funds.
Right now, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors hopes to schedule several town hall meetings, not only to update citizens on the progress of the ongoing road and bridge problems in the county but seek the input of citizens in how to proceed.
I know the possibility of increasing taxes to fund the various needs in the county is never a first choice. The board of supervisors definitely doesn’t want to increase taxes, and Carroll’s citizens are likely not keen on the idea either. However, sometimes, you have to take the plunge for the greater good.
It is like having a leaky, old roof. Patching the leaks is a cheap fix. However, eventually you are patching more frequently and the cost to patch the leak continues to add up. How long should you limp along with the leaky roof until you realize replacing the roof would have been more efficient and price effective from the beginning?
I applaud the Carroll County Board of Supervisors for not wanting to add to its citizens’ tax burden to find revenue to pay for infrastructure repairs. They are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.
However, it’s time for the citizens of Carroll County to decide if they want to continue to detour around closed bridges on worn out roads, or do they want to fix the problem once and for all.