LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) — Go to just about any county supervisors meeting across the state and at some point, the debate will turn to the need for more money to repair crumbling rural roads.
The price of asphalt has more than tripled in the last 10 years. At the same time, tax revenues have not grown nearly as fast, meaning counties are falling farther behind in trying to keep up with roads battered by rain and cold. That’s especially true in areas like Lowndes County which are seeing residential growth in rural areas.
“In rural areas, roads weren’t made to handle the heavy trucks we’re getting now hauling chickens, hogs and cotton,” explained District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, whose rural district has some of the worst problems.
But keeping roads up is important to continued growth and job creation.
We’re not trying to dictate anything to our road manager, we’re just trying to be proactive and plan for the growth that is coming in these areas. We’re just trying to look at all our options in advance,” said District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks.
Lowndes has spent almost $3 million from reserves and other sources in the last six years on top of regular road funding and supervisors say it’s still not enough.
“If you choose to go above and beyond the road department’s budget, then it’s going to have to wait until next year and do a millage increase or borrow the money.”That would be the only two sources of funds that I can see,” Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley told supervisors today.
The board acknowledged that sometimes politics slows progress. In Lowndes County, for instance, one of the worst — but most heavily traveled — county roads is South Lehmberg connecting East Columbus and New Hope. Most of those who use the road live in John Holliman’s Third District but most of the actual road lies in Smith’s Fourth District. But because of the voting breakdown, it’s not advantageous for Smith to divert road money from other parts of his district to spend the $1 million needed to pave the four miles of South Lehmberg.
But Smith, Holliman, County Engineer Bob Calvert and Road Manager Ronnie Burns have been looking at funding options to try to address the road while not taking away from other road needs.
Lowndes supervisors agreed to appoint a committee to study road needs beyond the county’s four-year road plan and make recommendations for priorities and funding possibilities by June 15th.