HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - When Mayor Toby Barker took over in 2017, the city hadn’t completed an audit in three years.
Incomplete audits resulted in the city losing its bond rating in 2016, which meant the city couldn’t issue bonds or apply to certain grants.
“We missed millions of dollars in grant opportunities because we did not have up-to-date audits,” Barker said.
Since then, Hattiesburg has completed five audits in three years. Moody’s Investors Services restored Hatiesburg’s bond rating in 2018.
After applying for $15.15 million in grants, Hattiesburg announced Thursday the city’s Aa3 bond rating had been renewed.
“It’s taken a lot of work and has involved a lot of hard choices, many of which we’ve made in this pandemic, to make sure we are going to remain on solid financial footing,” Barker said.
Bonds are similar to a loan and can be used to fund a variety of projects
“We have challenged ourselves to not use bonds to do regular maintenance,” Barker said. “We’re not going to take out bonds just to pave streets because we should be budgeting those things into our every year budgets.”
So what will the city be using these bonds for?
“Bonds need to be used for game changing type things, for major infrastructure projects that will long outlive the debt that we paid on that,” Barker said.
Hattiesburg intends to use the $15 million in bonds to fund two overpass projects in downtown Hattiesburg.
One of those projects is the Hall Avenue overpass, which has already been announced and will begin in 2021.