Hattiesburg asks state to fund tornado clean up

Hattiesburg asks state to fund tornado clean up

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council is hoping the state will help fund tornado recovery and clean up costs.

Council members voted unanimously Friday in a special called meeting to ask local lawmakers to ask the state legislature for $500,000 to help pay for clean up costs not covered by FEMA.

"FEMA will come in and match, pay (for) 80 percent of our restoration," said Carter Carroll, council president. "We're asking the state to pick up our 20 percent. They did it for the Louisville tornado, and so that's what we're asking for is the state to help us out."

According to the letter, Hattiesburg estimates clean up will cost $3 million, with the city having to pay $500,000.

"We write asking for your help," the letter states. "Our City could use any assistance possible to meet the unforeseen costs associated with this disaster. We understand the State is currently in a fiscally tight situation, as are the other cities and municipalities affected by the storm. However, any aid from the State to help cover our match would ease the burden on our City's funds and the services we can provide to our people."

Carroll said having the state help pay for things like debris removal, home demolition and road and sewer repairs is essential to keep the city's budget for non-tornado related projects intact.

"Oh it's of extreme importance," he said. "We're asking for up to $500,000, and if we have to pay that ourselves, then that takes away from asphalt and other services that we're performing."

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said finding funding this late in the legislative session will be difficult

"Certainly, our local delegation will try very hard to get some of those dollars," Fillingane said. "The difference between the Louisville situation and ours is that this one happened so late in the session. We're literally within about three weeks of wrapping up all of the business. Most of those budgets have already been crafted or are in the process of having the finishing touches placed on those budgets, and we're in a budget shortfall. It would basically require going in at the last minute, removing monies from some other project or priority and shifting those dollars over for this particular project, which is always tough to do."

Fillingane said if the city doesn't need those dollars by a certain time, it would be easier to build that funding into a budget next year.

"It's not their fault," he said. "These natural disasters, no one has any way of predicting when they're going to happen, and we just deal with the fallout as they happen. So it's something we'll certainly look at, but at this late date in the calendar, I wouldn't certainly make any promises or guarantees to the council or anyone else because of the reasons I've already stated. Monies are extremely tight this year, and it happened so late in the budget process when most of those budgets have already been passed or are in the process of being passed."

Carroll said the council is hoping for "an immediate answer" whether the city is receiving funding or not.

Council members also unanimously approved advertising for bids for disaster recovery consulting services to ensure those costs can also be reimbursed by FEMA.

"When the tornado first hit, the council was allowed to hire a consulting firm for up to 90 days, and that would be reimbursed by FEMA," Carroll said. "Now that we know it's going to take much longer for our consulting firm to continue working, we need to have (Requests for Proposals) advertised, and then we will score and hire a consulting form to continue on for the next period of time, at least, probably, for two years. That can be reimbursed by FEMA."

Carroll said he expects to the city to have a new consultant by April 1.