County could miss out on grant money

Published 11:27 pm Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Pearl River County Planning and Development Department and the Pearl River County Emergency Management Department, both of which underwent administrative changes after the first of the year, each have several outstanding grants which may or may not be affected by the staffing changes.

Julia Anderson, former Grant Administrator for the county, said there were numerous grants and grant projects that are in the works that are time-sensitive, and that the county could run into problems if deadlines are not met.

“One example is the 100 percent grant reimbursement for salaries and fringe benefits in the building department… That grant probably would have been renewed for two years… However, getting an extension is predicated on a timely draw-down of the funds. They will only consider an extension if we continue to draw-down the funds,” Anderson said.

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Other grants in the planning department that are outstanding include a $25,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for storm water education, a Coast Impact Assessment Grant to establish a low-impact water park on Highway 43 North at Boley Creek, a $320,000 grant from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency that was used to establish the building department which still has about $80,000 remaining to be reimbursed, a Community Development Block Grant for comprehensive planning in the county, and a $30,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration for the update of the county’s strategic plan which has not yet been reimbursed.

Anderson said the county can write letters to the grantors explaining the delay, and that the grantors should be willing to work with the county, but that nothing is guaranteed.

Former Planning and Development Director Harold Holmes said of course there would be delays due to the new administration but that it is up to the county to follow up on the outstanding projects in the department.

In the Emergency Management Department, over $10 million in grant money is outstanding on three separate projects, said former PRC Emergency Management Director Bobby Strahan.

Strahan said the projects include a siren grant for several sirens across the county; a $1.4 million generator grant to provide generators for the hospital, correctional facility and the cities; and an $8 million shelter grant to build three shelters within the county. Strahan said the siren project has been bid out, and is just awaiting installation, while the generators have been shipped and the county is waiting to receive them before bidding out the installation of the generators.

“There are still some things to work out (with all the grants),” Strahan said. “I hope it will be continued.”

District IV Supervisor Patrick Lee said whether the grants would continue or not would be up to the new staff that the county is putting in place in those offices.

“They will decide what needs to continue and what does not,” Lee said.

Danny Manley, who has been asked to take over as Emergency Management Director, said if he accepts the position, all the grants Strahan began will be continued.

“I will continue all current open projects. There will be no major changes,” Manley said.

Calls for comment to Ed Pinero, who has been named as the new Planning and Development Director and who is slated to begin work in mid-February, had not been returned by press time.

Lee said the reason for the changes within the departments was that the supervisors agreed they wanted to take the county in a new direction.

“In the planning department, we felt like they all had the same frame of mind and that we would meet resistance to the direction we want to go. We also wanted to give Ed (Pinero) the option to hire his own people,” Lee said.

Lee said knew replacing Strahan would be an unpopular decision, but that the board felt it would be the best move for the county.

“(Strahan) was not an easy decision. He’s a great guy, but we wanted to bring emergency management to a county level. We’re not giving up the grants. It’s just that there are a lot of volunteer fire departments who feel that they have not been supported. We decided it would be better to start with someone new… He had lost a grip on the county level,” Lee said.

District I Supervisor Anthony Hales, who was the only supervisor to vote against the firings, said he voted his conscience on the issue.

“I have not asked the board for their reasons for voting the way they did. I just expressed my thoughts on how the changes might affect the county in a negative way…. But I voted my conscience because I was not in total agreement of the makeup of the list,” Hales said.

Hales and Lee said they both want to move past the firings and move forward with the new personnel to make positive improvements for the county.

“We just have to move on and keep moving in a positive direction,” Hales said.