$207M: Legislature to borrow funds for state projects including USM, Sumrall

By HASKEL BURNS,

The Mississippi Legislature is looking to borrow $207 million in state-issued bonds for several projects and educational institutions around the state, including $13.3 million for the University of Southern Mississippi and $2 million for recreational facilities in Sumrall.

Under Senate Bill 3065, which was authored by Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, Southern Miss would use its share of the funds for three areas of improvement: renovations at the Cook Library, transit improvements and renovations at the Kinesiology Building. The $2 million earmarked for Sumrall will go to the city’s sports complex on Mississippi 42, in particular expansion of that site to accommodate the growing number of participants.

“Right now, there’s about 10 acres (at the sports complex) where the Little League baseball folks play out there,” Fillingane said. “It’s a wonderful facility, but it’s just very small, and I think there’s about 300 kids already playing on the three fields, so they just have to kind of rotate all weekend long.

“So they’re looking for some areas to expand, with more baseball fields. Also there’s a new tennis team that Sumrall High School has, and they need a place to practice and to play matches. So we’re looking at doing a small tennis court complex on the property, as well as a couple of more soccer fields.”

Over the last several months, sports clubs around Sumrall – including tennis, soccer and Little League teams – have been raising private funds to go toward the improvement of the sports complex. 

“They’re doing a really good job with getting that money gathered up, and doing what they can on their own,” Fillingane said. “But obviously we were trying to help them expedite that project.”

Missy McGee, who represents District 102 in the Mississippi House of Representatives, said under a two-year agreement that was formulated last year, each of the state’s three major universities – Southern Miss, Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi – would receive $20 million over the course of two bond bills.

“So we had a bond bill last year where Southern Miss got $7 million, and this year we got a little over $13 million,” she said. “So we’ve got that coming for the university, and I’m pleased about that.” 

Senate Bill 3065 has been sent to Gov. Phil Bryant, who is expected to reply to the Legislature by April 20.

As part of the borrowing process, the state would issue bonds, which would be purchased by various companies.

“That’s the way the state borrows money largely for construction projects, and you would pay for it out your appropriated funds each year,” Fillingane said. “It may take many, many years to get enough together to do a major project.

“So just like you or I do when we want to go buy a house, we don’t typically save up all of our money to buy a house right off the bat – we’ll go to a lending institution and borrow that money and pay it back over 20 or 30 years. So the state does the same thing in the form of the bonds.”

Senate Bill 3065 also sets aside money for universities such as Mississippi State University ($10.3 million), the University of Mississippi ($5.3 million), the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast campuses ($1.7 million) and Mississippi Valley State University ($6.3 million), among others. Also in the bill are several junior colleges, including Jones County Junior College ($1.7 million), Pearl River Community College ($1.6 million), East Mississippi Community College ($1.5 million) and Itawamba Community College ($1.8 million).

Other recipients include Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks ($4 million), State Fire Academy ($11 million), the College Board of Education and Research Center ($690,000) and the Mississippi Military Department ($2 million).

“I’m extremely pleased with the bond bill that I authored, and it came through my finance committee in the State Senate that I chair,” Fillingane said. “I felt very involved in that process, and I was very pleased that we were able to get as many projects as we did for the surrounding area.

“People complain so often … about the power in the Legislature in Mississippi always being in north Mississippi, and all the money goes to north Mississippi. 

People say that the south always gets left out, and I think these are some expamples of just the reverse happening. South Mississippi, and specifically the Pine Belt, is getting its fair share of the proceeds that the state doles out.”

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