Local governments in southern and central Mississippi must begin using federal funds for disaster recovery by the end of the year, according to Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour recently sent a letter to the 39 cities and counties that received a combined $41 million in GO Zone Community Revitalization grants, setting a Jan. 1 deadline for projects to start.
The fast-approaching deadline pushed Lamar County supervisors to accept bids on their $1.9 million project to repair and build new fire stations that were higher than they would have preferred.
"We now have firm deadlines on bid-opening dates, and we should have every bid opened and awarded, except one," Lamar County Administrator Chuck Bennett told the Hattiesburg American.
The grants went to improving public facilities and infrastructure within the federally designated Gulf Opportunity Zone that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Recipients in the Jackson metro area include the city of Ridgeland and the town of Edwards. Ridgeland received $2.6 million through the program to upgrade its water system. Edwards received $320,000 to upgrade its town hall.
The Community Revitalization grants are distinct from other GO Zone funds, like GO Zone bonds. Among the city's developments receiving GO Zone bonds is the Capital City Center project, which will include hotel, apartments, office and retail space and span two blocks across Pascagoula Street from the Convention Center. The $200 million project will use more than $50 million in Go Zone bonds, the city's Business Development Manager Mike Davis said. Although those bonds are not subject to the Jan. 1 deadline, the state has been monitoring the project's progress.
"The developer has to provide a timeline to MDA," Davis said. "TCI has, to my understanding, provided documentation to MDA to let them know where they are in this process."
Another loan program targeting small businesses the GO Zone counties has a new expiration date. The U.S. Small Business Administration is extending the Gulf Opportunity Pilot Loan Program through September 2010. The program offers loans to small businesses of up to $150,000. It was slated to close this year, on Sept. 30, but SBA officials said that demand for the loans has increased.
In 2008, the SBA approved 123 loans in Mississippi for $9.7 million. Through September 25 of this year, it had approved 338 loans in the state for $17.5 million. Mississippi's share of the loan money also increased, from 11 to 14 percent of the total amount loaned in the five GO Zone states.
Jackson and state SBA officials did not immediately return calls for comment.