Notes from the Mayor Sept. 26
The flooding from December 27, 2018, and the claims filed for losses by our city are starting to become a reality. We have an excellent local Emergency Management Team and have met many from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) and our state M.E.M.A. team. All these people are trying to help local governments and citizens, but the process has been almost traumatic. F.E.M.A. adopted a new software system that is filled with numerous applications that are complicated and difficult to work with. I am surprised that either agency kept their employees as they fought through a system that was very unresponsive, demanding, and very difficult to work with. The paperwork will fill a five-drawer file cabinet that must be maintained for several years.
We will receive help in repairing the street damage on West Franklin next to Hardees, and the damage done on Railroad Avenue. These two areas will require going through the bidding process. Quitman has over $100,000 in damages other than the streets above which we will be reimbursed for.
Working with Natural Resource Conservation Service (N.R.C.S.) and Pat Harrison we will be spending just under $100,000 to repair an area on Highway 512 that was closed from the storm damage and putting riprap on Harris Avenue to help reduce erosion. F.E.M.A. reimburses local governments with 75% of the actual cost and the state helps with 12.5% of the balance, but it is paid after the repairs are made. The Board of Aldermen is aware of the challenge to our cash flow and has approved moving forward.
The hydrology studies are complete and the enormity of what we are faced with is a known commodity. Going forward with the solution requires engineering, which F.E.M.A. indicates they will help with. To address flooding in a zone that is listed as an X or floods only once in 500 years requires evidence of damage and the fix cannot be more than the damage recorded. Rivers and lakes determine a flood zone and storm water surges are not considered, which is beyond any understanding by me or others. Storm waters account for most of the flooding and will continue to be the main source of flooding. I have spent numerous hours working with our people, engineers, and F.E.M.A. to develop a plan to mitigate the potential loss if we are faced with the rain levels experienced in Houston and other areas.
For our fiscal year the City of Quitman experienced the highest level of sales tax revenue in recorded history. The number of “Ma & Pa” businesses and their abilities is to be credited with this success. I can’t find a city in our state that is our size or somewhat larger that has five banks, five restaurants, and unique stores like Simply Irresistible and Premier Auto. It is also gratifying to see our Quitman School District continue to improve in test scores. Success is a wonderful thing but planning to continue it is a must.
Mississippi is the only state in the south that takes most of the revenues from sales tax collected in a city. Mississippi is also the highest taxing state when it comes to Ad Valorem taxes, but because this is considered a local issue the state legislative body is not concerned.
Mac Gordon, a retired newspaper publisher, tells of a supervisor in Pike County telling a business owner that complained about taxes to move if he did not want to pay the taxes. If this issue is not addressed, we will continue down the road of no growth, less investment, and population loss.
Fortunately, we will have two new people going into the legislative body, and I intend to ask each for legislative action to develop a fairer way to share taxes. Counties, cities, and school districts depend on Ad Valorem taxes to operate. We need to review what other states around us are doing.
Last week I held a meeting of civic leaders, industry, economic developers, and local government leaders. The subject was the development of timber businesses, with cross-laminated timber being at the forefront. Our Board of Aldermen approved spending monies to bring a team of graduate students, and fourth year students from the Mississippi State Department of Architecture. They will be designing houses along two demographic areas, the first being the first purchasers of a home and the second being those that want to downsize. We sat down with the students and Dr. Jacob Gines, who is the person with the most knowledge of cross-laminated construction. The students asked many direct questions about Quitman’s interests, challenges, and attributes.
In three weeks, Supervisor Mickey Long, Clarke County Economic Director Fred Blackledge, and I as Mayor, will be going to Starkville to review the designs which will be costed in order to compare with traditionally constructed housing. This is something we are doing in order to bring timber related industry to Quitman and Clarke County.
Congratulations to our Quitman High School Football team on their win against a very good West Lauderdale Football team.