Local governments get state storm aid

JACKSON – The state will pay the local governments’ costs for debris removal under legislation passed in a Thursday special session where $17 million was transferred to Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to pay for the aftermath of the April 28 tornadoes.

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton, who attended the special session along with five Tupelo City Council members, said the commitment of the state to pay the local match to the federal government for debris removal “is a big deal” that would help the city’s financial situation.

Shelton said the state help is important because he anticipates Tupelo’s sales tax revenue to take a major hit in the coming months because of the damage to many of the city’s businesses.

The Legislature wasted little time passing the proposal Thursday without a dissenting vote in the special session called by Gov. Phil Bryant. The legislation transfers $17 million from the car tag reduction fund to MEMA to pay costs associated with the multiple tornadoes that hit in numerous areas of the state on April 28 and for costs from past storms that have hit in the state. For instance, the state still owes money from the 2011 tornado that devastated Smithville.

MEMA Executive Director Robert Latham said the $17 million would not cover all of those costs, but would take care of immediate needs.

Bryant said the $17 million “will…go to those who need it most.” He praised legislators “for standing shoulder to shoulder” to pass the proposal and adjourn in about three hours….

….The only stumbling block Thursday came when House Democrats tried to change the bill to take the money from the state rainy day fund instead of the car tag reduction fund. Democrats argued, that with the extra money in the fund, car tags could be reduced more in the coming year. Republicans rejected the proposal, saying the transfer would not increase the costs of car tags.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, urged everyone to pass the proposal despite the disagreement on which fund to use. In a impassioned speech that grabbed the attention of the entire House and Bryant, who was in the chamber, he said storm response and recovery was a bipartisan effort that brought people and governments together.

Holland said the storm “knocked a big hole in our hearts. But we are Tupelo-strong and we are going to pull out.”

Daily Journal
5/9/14