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Mississippi Lawmakers Pass Tornado Relief

By Paul Boger | Published 09 May 2014 08:30am | comments
Mississippi lawmakers are appropriating $17 million to Mississippi communities devastated by last weeks tornadoes.  MPB's Paul Boger reports the aid will assist with debris removal and clean-up efforts.
In a three hour special session yesterday, lawmakers appropriated funds to the state's disaster assistance program. Michael Evans' represents Winston County, and as a Philadelphia Fire fighter he's also helped in the recovery efforts in Louisville. 
"I've seen homes completely destryoed." said Evans. "I've seen my own constituents passed away through the storm. I've seen our hospital completely gone; right at 300 homes completely gone. We had 38 farms, chicken farms in the country that's completely gone. That's going to cost the city and the county a lot of tax revenue."
While the bill does not provide any personal assistance, Senate Bill 2001 does help towns and cities pay for debris removal and clean-up by transferring money from the state's car tag reduction fund to MEMA. Senate Appropriations Chair Buck Clarke of Hollandale says it was easier to pull the money from that particular fund then the rainy day reserves.
"In a way it was like idle money; it was sitting there." said Clarke. "This was a better choice then some of the other funds we have because there are so many other moving parts that go through what we call our rainy day fund, which is working cash, and even our capital expense funds. those are some funds that have some other qualifications on how it goes in and how it goes out. So this was kind of like idle money, best choice."
However, some lawmakers in the House believed taking money out of the car tag reduction fund will in turn cause vehicle registration costs to go up. Speaking on the floor House, Representative John Stringer of Montrose angered Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson when he cautioned lawmakers against the measure.
"Lo, and behold, if we don't spend that money the people back home will get a cheaper car tag." claimed Stringer. "It's up to you to do what you want to do. If you want a cheaper car tag, or spend the money today.
"That statement came from the previous leadership." said Frierson. "This money is available spend [sic]. It's just sitting there idle. The only way you can reduce the car tag is to bring the bill back out here, bring a general bill back out here and change the percentage that goes to it."
Despite the hostilities, lawmakers were able to pass the bill unanimously. Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton says the additional money will be a tremendous help to those municipalities struggling to recover.
"One school is at least $3 million, the Tupelo Water and Light, as I understand it, is looking at about $5 million expenses for them." said Shelton. "The State of Mississippi brought in some major assistance on both cash flow issues and then with substantive assistance as far as the debris removal that will lift a really heavy burden of the local governments."
Initial estimates put the state's share of recovery costs at $13.5 million, damage estimates have not been completed in all 12 affected counties.




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