By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Three Rivers Planning and Development District has pledged $2.5 million in interest-free loans to three local governments recovering from major damage caused by last week’s tornado.
Three Rivers, a private, nonprofit company formed by local governments and business leaders in eight Northeast Mississippi counties, pledged one-year loans of $1 million each to Lee County and Tupelo and $500,000 to Itwamba County.
Randy Kelley, executive director of Three Rivers, said cash flow issues with local governments stuck out three years ago as a challenge when the organization assisted Smithville and Chickasaw County with tornado recovery.
“This procedure will virtually devastate county and municipal general funds,” Kelley said.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse local governments up to 85 percent of costs related to storm recovery, local counties and cities must pay upfront costs until the federal government provides reimbursements.
“That is crucial,” Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said Tuesday before the City Council approved acceptance of the loan. “That will allow us to expedite the recovery process.”
Lee County administrator Sean Thompson said the Board of Supervisors should formally accept the interest-free loan in the next week or so.
Cleanup and recovery in the area could take three to five years.
Along with short-term loans, Three Rivers will also provide Tupelo and Lee County each with an employee with experience with record-keeping and regulations related to disaster recovery.
Three Rivers’ assistance comes as local governments make final preparations before entering into contracts with private companies to oversee the recovery process, which includes removal of at least 200,000 cubic yards of debris in Tupelo and unincorporated parts of Lee County.