Supervisors push for special session over bridges

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Mississippi supervisors are trying to build support for a special session to get money for rural county bridges and fire trucks.
Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said boards from more than half the state’s 82 counties have passed resolutions asking for a special session.
Mick Bullock, a spokesman for Gov. Phil Bryant, said the governor “will continue to work with legislative leadership, and if it is evident that a funding agreement could be reached, he would then consider adding it to any potential special session.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he supports the bridge and fire truck programs, but believes they can be dealt with during the 2013 session.
Both are normally financed through state bonds. But during the 2012 session, the House and Senate could not agree on the size of a bond issue to finance long-term construction projects, including repairs and maintenance at universities, community colleges and other state-owned buildings.
The loss of the $20 million provided in most years to repair rural bridges, and of the $2.8 million for fire truck acquisition, has the potential to slow both programs, Surrette said. He said there are about 1,300 substandard bridges in the state.
He said many school boards also are asking for a special session because buses cannot cross some bridges because of weight limit restrictions.
Reeves said one of his goals is to stop issuing bonds – and thus incurring state debt – to pay for the bridge repairs. He pointed out that in the first few years of the program it was funded through a general appropriation and his goal is to return to that process.
During the past session, he proposed issuing $13 million in bonds and appropriating $7 million for the program, but it got caught up in the bigger fight over bonds and nothing passed.
Reeves said even if the Legislature passed bonds in special session it would be 90 days before their sale was completed and counties received the money. He said it would be just as quick if the Legislature appropriated money early in the 2013 session.
Reeves said currently a little less than $9 million remains in the bridge program. He said in recent years a little less than $1 million per month was spent.
The state normally provides $75,000 toward the purchase of fire trucks for volunteer departments. Fire trucks costs between $175,000 and $225,000.
Reeves said there is currently about $2 million remaining in the volunteer fire department truck acquisition fund.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com