Council approves paving funds, after long debate

Published 1:19 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Picayune City Council continued debating the project to divide a pool of money totaling nearly $1.1 million to pave streets across the city, but finally approved the project on a 4-1 vote, with District 1 Councilman Larry Watkins voting against it.

Watkins has argued throughout the process of deciding how to divide the money among the districts that some were getting more because some of the money in the pool can be used only for roads with a federal designation under the Surface Transportation Project designation. About $150,000 of the money in the pool comes from STP funds.

The roads on which the STP money can be used includes North Beech Street, Main Street, Crosby Street and Palestine Road.

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“In order for us to know (how the money is being spent), we need to know what each district is going to be credited with,” Watkins said.

Jerry Bounds appeared to agree with him, saying, “If I have (about $250,000) to spend (in my district), I want to know where it’s used.”

Watkins also said that some of the money in the pool also could have been allocated years earlier to handle streets he had wanted paved in his district, only that information had been kept from him until the discussions started that led up to the formation of the pool.

However, council members Leavern Guy, Donald Parker, Anna Turnage and Bounds voted to accept the pool’s division of funds as long as they could designate some specific areas for paving work within their districts. In announcing the vote on the motion, Mayor Greg Mitchell put it at four to one, apparently not casting a vote himself.

Negotiations yesterday on the paving project apparently began well before the meeting was scheduled to begin, with council members spread around the council’s chambers and adjacent offices discussing the matter prior to the time the meeting was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The meeting finally was called to order more than half an hour late.

The debate over the funds continued still for nearly another hour after the meeting was called to order.

At the end of the meeting, Interim City Manager Harvey Miller again explained why the meeting had to take place so quickly following last week’s meeting when the road project also was on the agenda until the council voted to delay it.

He said that while he was aware a candidates’ forum had been planned when he proposed last night’s meeting, he was not aware of the time or day of the forum. However, he said the council needed to act quickly because it was facing a time frame of six months that began when the city received a letter dated Feb. 20, from the Mississippi Dept. of Transportation. The letter said Picayune and other entities slated to receive federal stimulus money had six months in which to have the bidding process essentially complete.

Miller said that due to legal requirements concerning the bidding process, the council had to act now in order to meet the deadline.

The City Council also approved a contract with Neel Schaeffer engineering firm to manage the project and then went into executive session on a contractual matter with the Centraplex complex.