MDOT lifts freeze on Hattiesburg assets

The city is hoping to have long-term debt rating re-established after meeting with Moody’s.

MDOT lifts freeze on Hattiesburg assets

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The City of Hattiesburg, particularly its roads, got some very welcome news Friday.

In a letter dated Dec. 14, the Internal Audit Division of the Mississippi Department of Transportation notified the city of Hattiesburg that its audit suspension had been lifted.

The result: Not only can the city apply for grants through Federal Highway Administration again, but Hattiesburg will receive"millions" in reimbursement payments currently held by MDOT," Mayor Toby Barker said.

“From our worst situation, when we were on full suspension, we’re talking into the millions of dollars,” Barker said Friday afternoon. "This is another significant step forward in regaining the City’s financial footing. The lifting of this suspension allows us to be reimbursed for portions of projects already completed.

"Most importantly, it affords us the opportunity to compete for grants that can help fund much-needed infrastructure projects throughout our city. This stretches the tax-payer’s dollars and our capacity for equity of progress across all of Hattiesburg.”

MDOT issued the decision after receiving the city’s Fiscal Year 2016 and 2017 audits and examining the city’s corrective action plans surrounding six audit findings.

The suspension began on July 7, 2017, after the City missed its June 30, 2017, deadline to turn in the Fiscal Year 2016 audit. At the time, the City had not completed an audit since Fiscal Year 2014.

“This accomplishment comes through the hard work of our administrative team, led by (Chief Administrative Officer) Ann Jones and (Chief Financial Officer) Connie Everett, as well as the support of the entire City Council,” Barker said. “This another step along the path of regaining our financial stability.”

The next step, Barker said, was regaining the good graces of Moody’s, the bond-rating institution. Moody’s stopped rating the city in November 2016 because of the issues over the audits.

The lack of rating hobbles the city’s ability to issue long-term debt, such as bonds.

Barker said he and “two others from my office” along with the city’s financial consultants met with three representatives from Moody’s Wednesday in New York City.

Barker said he was optimistic.

“We think we should have an indication sometime next week,” Barker said.

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