Hinds Co. supervisors explain decision to use ARPA funds on economic development
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Three supervisors have responded to claims that Hinds County was wrongly prioritizing how it was using its COVID-19 relief funds.
Thursday, Supervisors Credell Calhoun, Bobcat McGowan, and Vern Gavin outlined how the county has spent and will be spending its roughly $45 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, and defended the county’s decision to spend a large chunk of that on economic development.
The press conference came days after District 2 Supervisor David Archie and District 1 Supervisor Robert Graham said they had been left out of the planning process, and argued that funds would be better spent addressing crime, roads, and bridges.
Calhoun, though, said the board is united in its efforts. “Now, we have a united front, the board is on target, trying to make Hinds County the Mecca of the South. We were blessed with (these) funds that came in, and they’re going to be utilized as much as possible to make that happen,” Calhoun, the board president, said.
Archie and Graham were absent from Thursday’s briefing, which was held in the board of supervisors’ chambers.
A breakdown of spending was provided at both meetings. According to figures provided Thursday, the county has spent $3.5 million on public health, $4 million on “negative economic impacts,” $7.5 million on “public health - negative economic impacts,” $1.2 million on infrastructure, $10 million on revenue replacement, nearly $2.5 million on premium pay and about $129,000 on administrative costs.
A portion of those funds is also going to establish a new nonprofit to focus on retail development. The document did not show exactly how much would go to establish that organization.
Documents provided by Graham and Archie show that at least $1 million would go to set up the “economic development hub.” Those funds would be used to lease or purchase operations space, pay for set-up costs, like filing fees, and hiring essential staff. First-year operations, according to Archie and Graham’s documents, would be around $3 million. The second year’s operations would run another $2.5 million.
Graham questioned that spending, telling reporters Monday the county already had the Hinds County Economic Development Authority, and they had not asked for any additional funding.
Gavin told reporters the new organization would be similar to ones set up in Baton Rouge, Atlanta, and New Orleans, and would have a different role than HCEDA.
“Their (HCEDA’s) focus has been primarily in the manufacturing aspect of recruiting industries in and working in that regard. They have not taken on the responsibility of addressing... retail,” Gavin said. “And, so, as a result of that, retail is a very vital part of the services that are needed in Hinds County for its citizens.”
“If you look at the Highway 80 corridor, as a prime example, we don’t have a major retail outlet for shopping. You also have to look at some of our restaurants, even some of our hotels, in that aspect of it,” he said. “We have to be able aggressively to go after economics from all aspects.”
It was unclear how the organization would be funded once ARPA funds run out. Gavin said millage could be dedicated to cover its operations.
“We won’t get to be the Mecca without having some retail,” Calhoun added. “We’re going to drive very hard to bring retail into Hinds County. If you drive around Flowood, if you drive around Madison, if you drive around Ridgeland, you see a lot of retail out there. We need that in Hinds County.”
In all, the county is slated to receive $45 million in ARPA dollars, with the funds coming in two “tranches.” The first $22 million was delivered to the county last year. The second $23 million or so is expected to come in July.
A portion of the funds also is going to Hope Credit Union, which will be used to help stem urban flight and increase homeownership in the county.
Between 2010 and 2020, Hinds County lost around 17,543 people, while populations increased in neighboring Madison and Rankin counties, U.S. Census Bureau figures show.
Graham and Archie, though, said economic development won’t come until people feel safe and people can drive the streets.
Jackson, the county’s largest city, has had back-to-back record years in terms of homicides and is on track to have another record or near-record year in 2022.
“I don’t hear citizens speaking to us all over this county, nothing about economic development,” Archie said. “What they’re talking about is getting the crime under control, fixing the potholes, fixing the ditches, cleaning the streets, getting the trash off the road.”
“We do know if we repair roads and bridges, people will have an easier time driving and moving around the city of Jackson,” Graham said.
Calhoun said the county is planning to spend more on infrastructure, including building a water tower in South Jackson. However, no specifics on those plans were provided.
“We’re not going to talk about it at this time, but infrastructure funds are coming. And we’re going to fix some more streets with that infrastructure money, and some more bridges,” he said. “We have a lot of bridges that are out, and we’re going to get those fixed.”
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