By Cain Madden/NEMS Daily Journal
SMITHVILLE – It was a great feat for a town of less than 1,000 residents to have more than $200,000 saved up at the beginning of the year.
“I’ve been mayor for 10 years, and we’ve been very conservative,” Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy said.
But in the wake of the EF-5 tornado that touched down and devastated Smithville on April 27, Kennedy said that money is gone and the town will have trouble paying its bills and meeting its payroll until federal disaster assistance arrives.
After the tornado, Kennedy said approximately $100,000 was spent ensuring that the town’s water tower remained standing and patching up necessary buildings. Putting the tornado sirens back up cost $55,000, and installing portable commodes around town cost $5,000.
Kennedy turned to Three Rivers Planning and Development District, and Executive Director Randy Kelley gave him a $100,000 no-interest loan for six months.
“It didn’t go very far; we paid two bills,” Kennedy said. “These folks who did work for us want to get paid, and I understand that, but I don’t know where the money is coming from.”
Kennedy said Smithville has $28,000 in the bank, $172,000 in bills left from the tornado and a reduced payroll that it’s unlikely to make.
“They are going to struggle,” Kelley said. “Smithville lost 95 percent of its revenue following the tornado. Their ability to pay a loan back in the short term is devastated.”
Kelley said he will extend the length of the no-interest loan, because he believes it will take 24 to 36 months before Smithville’s tax receipts pick up.
Recently, Smithville had another large expense. To meet State Department of Environmental Quality requirements, the town had to spend $669,000 to repair its sewage system or face a $25,000-a-day fine from DEQ until the system was compliant.
“That money will come due sooner or later, but I won’t have the money,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Kelley said Three Rivers has established a donation account, but care was necessary in allocating money because it could affect the town’s ability to get Federal Emergency Management Administration money. There’s no timetable for FEMA assistance yet.
At a Three Rivers meeting in Pontotoc earlier this week about the Smithville recovery, Lois Lopez, a FEMA official, told Kelley that contributing money toward operational costs and the non-federal match of 12.5 percent would not affect the FEMA application.
“The city needs short-term loans to tide it over until the FEMA money comes in,” said state Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “Folks in the state are willing to help Smithville, and if they can come up with a ballpark figure, they might be able to get some help.”