Bond bill focuses on repair and renovation

JACKSON – A recently signed bond bill will deliver funds for renovation and repairs on community college and university campuses.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a $281.4 million bond package to cover a number of issues, but a large chunk of the funds will go to finance state building and repair projects.
The package, signed recently by Gov. Haley Barbour, includes $35 million for Mississippi’s eight public universities and for the university headquarters.
It also includes $12.25 million for the state’s 15 community colleges and a new administrative building to house the central office officials who provide some oversight of the two-year schools.
“Community college enrollment is booming this year as more people return to school to improve their job skills during this recession,” said Eric Clark, executive director of the state Board for Community and Junior Colleges.
“We must have decent buildings to serve all these students. State bonds to finance building construction and repair and renovation are essential for our community colleges to carry out their mission.”
Each of the 15 community colleges will receive $241,667 from the bond package. Plus, they will get additional funds based on enrollment.
Fulton-based Itawamba Community College will receive a total of $502,061; Booneville-based Northeast, $421,489; and Senatobia-based Northwest, $584,468. Mississippi Gulf Coast will receive the largest amount at $693,270.
A portion of the funds will be used to start the process of constructing a new building in Jackson to house the Community College Board and its staff.
Community college officials currently are housed in the same building where Institution of Higher Learning officials are located.
The new building will be on the grounds of that complex.
Overall, Mississippi State received $4.7 million while its Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine received $3.5 million.
At Ole Miss, the bond bill will provide $4.7 million while it will provide $2.5 million at the University Medical Center.
At Columbus, Mississippi University for Women will get $1.5 million.
Focus on repairs
In total, the College Board requested $130.8 million for projects at the eight public universities, but received far less than that.
The bill provides little funding for new projects, instead focusing on repair and renovations that officials say must be done to protect the value of the buildings.
Various legislators have complained that repair and renovation should be taken care of on a pay-as-you-go basis instead of by incurring long-term debt by issuing bonds.
But the Legislature has routinely been unable to come up with the funds in what always seems to be tight budget years.
Both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, and House Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, pointed out that the amount of debt being paid off by the state this year was roughly equal to the amount of debt being incurred by the bond bill.
The bond bill also sets aside $35 million for repairs and renovations of state buildings that are not on academic campuses. It provides about $100 million to supplement economic development incentive packages and provides funds to various projects throughout the state, such as:
– $1 million for the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.
– $700,000 for the Jackson Zoo.
– $500,000 for the B.B King Museum in the Delta.
– $400,000 for the Kemper Park Zoo in Hattiesburg.
– $3 million for the Port of Greenville.
– $1 million for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum on the Gulf Coast.
– $20 million to replace or repair subpar rural bridges.
– $3.9 million to help small towns and communities purchase firefighting equipment.
State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, was unsuccessful in efforts to obtain funds to enhance the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum in Tupelo, but said he would try again during the 2010 session.
The bill also provides $12 million for a new state Crime Lab. Attorney General Jim Hood and other law enforcement officials have complained that a lack of funding for facilities and personnel at the Crime Lab has hurt their ability to fight crime.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal