Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hancock County Going Bankrupt

10/10 Debris Contract Delayed - sent by Gary
Protest prompts violation review
HANCOCK COUNTY - The Board of Supervisors delayed a decision Friday on a multimillion-dollar contract to remove what's left of the county's Katrina-related debris.
Supervisors opened sealed contract bids Monday from seven firms. The county was expected to award the contract Friday afternoon.
However, Necaise Brothers Construction, a Gulfport-based company, had filed a protest citing a violation in the lowest proposal, submitted by W.G. Yates Construction Company.
Yates Construction of Jackson submitted a unit-price bid that could work out to be $3 million less than Necaise Brothers' bid, but the bid bond, which insures the county in case the contractor defaults on the agreement, was far more than what was required.
Necaise Brothers and the other companies turned in a $50,000 bid bond, but Yates provided a bid bond of five percent of the job, which the county values at nearly $10 million, meaning a contract awarded to Yates could be backed by as much as $500,000.
The discrepancy in the Yates proposal did not give the firm an advantage over the other companies that would warrant an automatic disqualification, according to county attorney Ronnie Artigues.
In a letter to Hancock County from its attorney, Necaise Brothers claims Yates "does not understand the requirements" of the job, pointing to drastic differences in contract proposals as evidence.
Yates offered to remove 48-inch tree stumps for $30 per stump. The second-lowest bid was $500 per stump. Necaise was the fourth-lowest bidder, offering to remove the stumps for $700 each.
The board can legally disqualify the Yates proposal based on the bid bond discrepancy, but that would not necessarily mean Necaise would get the job.
Two other companies, including another local firm, have offered to do the work for nearly $1.5 million cheaper than Necaise's proposal. Supervisors plan to resume talks Monday morning at 9 a.m.
"We want to see local people working," said board President Rocky Pullman. "But we want to make sure we pick the cheapest and best contract for the betterment of this county."

Jackson firm wins Hancock contract
HANCOCK COUNTY - Despite objections from Coast companies, county leaders awarded a contract Monday to a Jackson firm to finish cleaning up Hancock's Katrina debris.
The Hancock County Board of Supervisors last week delayed choosing among seven companies vying for the job because lawyers for Necaise Brothers Construction in Gulfport filed a protest citing a violation in the lowest proposal, submitted by W.G. Yates Construction Co.
The board gave the contract to Yates Construction of Jackson based on the firm's unit-price proposal that could work out to be $3 million less than Necaise Brothers' bid.
Yates will soon begin debris-removal work in the county and within the city limits of Bay St. Louis. City leaders in Waveland hired a separate firm.
Necaise Brothers claimed Yates should have been disqualified because its bid bond, which insures the county in case the contractor backs out of the agreement, was far more than what was required.
The other companies submitted $50,000 bid bonds but Yates provided a bid bond of 5 percent of the job, which the county values at nearly $10 million, meaning a contract awarded to Yates could be backed by as much as $500,000.
County attorney Ronnie Artigues said the discrepancy in the Yates proposal did not give the firm an advantage over the other companies that would warrant an automatic disqualification.
Some supervisors reportedly considered disqualifying Yates because of the discrepancy in the firm's bid proposal.
The county ordered its debris-monitoring company to spend the weekend updating its estimates of the amount of rubble remaining and use the new projections to figure out which of the companies was the lowest bidder.
According to the new estimates, Yates remained the cheapest and Necaise Brothers was the third-lowest bidder behind another Coast company.
Supervisors planned to send a letter to Yates requiring the firm to hire local subcontractors.
"We have tried diligently to help locals get work," Supervisors' President Rocky Pullman said. "But when you advertise for the best bid, you have to take it, because we still represent the people of this county."
From the Sea Coast Echo

Hancock could go ‘belly-up’

Jun 7, 2006, 17:34

In a historic meeting Monday afternoon, the Harrison and Jackson county boards of supervisors met with the Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Longfellow Drive to discuss what they could do to assist Hancock County.The meeting was organized by Jackson County Supervisor Tim Broussard."Watching everything on television, it is obvious that Hancock County seems to be getting the short end of the stick," he said. "We feel like we are in a position to help."

Hancock County Board President Rocky Pullman was gracious in accepting the offer and produced a list of some needs, which Hancock county is having trouble with."I cannot ask you for money," he said. "If anything, he said, I think our governor should be helping all of us with that. It is a wonderful thing to see the people next door, who have been hit just as hard, wanting to help."

The list of Hancock's needs included a "pothole patcher," help cleaning culverts, getting grass cut along the right of ways, extra debris removal, replacing street signs and lights, and mosquito control help.

Pullman then explained to fellow supervisors just how bad the situation in Hancock County is.He said the county is about $4.5 million dollars short this budget year, which will end in October. Next year is even worse as Pullman expects a shortfall between $10 million to $16 million, of a budget that normally runs around $34 million. Pullman said of the 19,000 homes in Hancock County, 10,000 were destroyed by Katrina.

"We feel like about October 16, we are going to be belly-up," he said.Harrison County Board President Connie Rockco and Supervisor Marlon Ladner suggested the counties unify their lobbying power to go to the governor or possibly even higher for financial assistance.

"We can present the problems to the governor and see if he can come up with any creative ideas on how to help," Rockco said.

"There is a tremendous amount of federal money here," Ladner said. "There has been no consideration made for local governments to maintain the services it provides. Why in the world would grant money not be carried over to local governments? The cities and counties have been devastated and they cannot provide the same services for the people. For years, the Coast has been the financial engine for the state. “We need some of that money back now."

Rockco suggested asking the governor and state legislation for a percentage of the sales tax revenue that is generated in each county. Currently, counties do not receive any of the sales tax collected inside of the unincorporated areas of the county. Cities receive a percentage of their sales tax back from the state.

Officials from Jackson and Harrison counties agreed to help with some of the road work, street signs, and man-power issues expressed by Hancock. Officials agreed to meet again, as well as use their combined voice to lobby for the good of all south Mississippi.

"We are centralized, we are the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Pullman said. "This is what we should be doing.""We need to tell them (state and federal officials), just help us get on our feet, and then you will not hear from us again," Supervisor Steve Seymour said. One Jackson County supervisor warned that borrowing money is not the way to solve problems.

"We can borrow ourselves rich," he said. "Eventually we will have to pay it back, and we just do not know how long it will be before we have the ability to do that."

© 2005 Bay St. Louis Newspapers, Inc.

Another Article

Pleas for money going unheard
The South Mississippi Sun Herald
June 09, 2006

You can't say you're going to end 100 percent funding and then at the last minute extend it; these are the kind of games that are causing our counties to suffer.
Coast leaders are in a dogfight, trying to secure enough funding to maintain their cities and counties while they claw their way loose from Katrina's lingering stranglehold.
The uphill battles playing out in city halls and county boardrooms in South
Mississippi could have a lasting effect on the future of Coast governments.
Hancock County faces at least a $12 million shortfall in the next two years, and Harrison County has cut its annual budget by 15 percent and adopted a hiring freeze.
Boards of supervisors of the three Coast counties formed an alliance this week on the premise that three voices will be louder than one when screaming for help.
Billions of federal dollars have been designated to help rebuild the Katrina-clobbered South, but most of that money is being funneled to homeowners or is earmarked for infrastructure repairs.
Some funds have gone to help local governments operate.
Bay St. Louis received a $1.9 million grant to help with lost revenues, but still the city is about $13 million short of staffing a full police and fire department, or hiring enough workers to run public services.
Joe Adams, a municipal-budget expert at the Stennis Institute of Government, said the struggles facing Coast governments could be vital to their futures.
'Right now, they have to find a way to balance the funding until the construction boom begins,' Adams said. 'Closing out this year will be tough, but the first quarter of the following year is when they are really going to have to pinch pennies.'
The Stennis Institute is working with New York's Rockefeller Institute of Government on a three-year study in the state to determine Katrina's effect on local governments, and their budgets.
The study is expected to offer tips on how to save local entities from bankruptcy, but the tri-county alliance can't wait that long. It began offering eleventh-hour suggestions this week.
Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco wants a percentage of the locally generated sales tax to go back to Katrina-battered counties along the Coast. Mississippi counties do not collect sales tax.
'If the state would give just a small portion back to the affected counties, it would help out a bunch,' Rockco said.
Some have criticized local leaders for pouting when so many volunteers have come to help, but officials say most of the faith-based and nonprofit groups are helping individuals, not governments.
Jackson County Supervisor John McKay, who agreed with Rockco's plan, said it's a matter of survival.
'It's not whining,' McKay said. 'The Coast has been the financial engine for this state for years, and now we need some of that money back.'
However, Hancock supervisors already have lobbied the state for similar legislation with no luck and government experts say a sales-tax move is unlikely.
At least $750 million in federal loans are available to local governments, but many Coast entities are hardly in a position to repay borrowed money.
There's been talk of allowing the loans to be forgiven, or turned into grants, but no firm decision has been made, and the lingering uncertainty is beginning to wear on Coast leaders, who are leery about applying for the federal funds.
What's more, deadlines for funding, debris removal, housing and other assistance have been extended many times since August, and the fickle federal cutoff dates are making local planning nearly impossible.
Local leaders are rapidly growing angry over federal inconsistencies. Harrison Supervisor Marlin Ladner said the government is playing 'mind games' that are hampering recovery.
'That's the biggest problem,' he said. 'You can't say you're going to end 100 percent funding and then at the last minute extend it; these are the kind of games that are causing our counties to suffer.'

8/19 From Sun Herald

State: County's financial outlook not so grim
HANCOCK COUNTY - State officials met with local leaders this week hoping to fashion a financial plan to thwart insolvency in this county and help ease the budget burdens for other Coast cities.
Top aides from Gov. Haley Barbour's administration and state Treasurer Tate Reeves told the Hancock Board of Supervisors the county's fiscal forecast is improving.
"We've all been concerned about what's going to happen here, financially," said Charlie Williams, the governor's chief of staff. "But we think you're going to be in better shape than you thought you'd be."
State officials are analyzing statistics to help the county develop a spending plan for the next two years. Barbour administration policy director Jim Perry expects to have "some real numbers in a spreadsheet format within the next few days."
Since last August, when Hurricane Katrina washed away about 64 percent of the homes and more than half of the county's taxable income, bookkeepers have reinvented the way they manage the business of Hancock County, a $35 million enterprise.
Shortly after the Aug. 29 storm, a drive-by assessment of the damage led county leaders to believe they faced severe financial struggles and that the day of reckoning was soon.
More detailed surveys in recent months have changed the projections. The county now expects a $2 million funding gap this year, far less than predicted.
Next year, the deficit should be about $4 million, but only if the federal government reimburses the county more than the $26 million it has spent on storm-recovery work.
Williams said the state is crunching numbers to help city leaders stabilize budgets in Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and Long Beach.
State officials have not said whether state funds would be used to supplement local budgets, but after attending this week's meeting, Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre said he was hopeful the state will offer more than just philosophical suggestions.
"We've had plenty of ideas, but none that have put anything on the table," said Favre, whose city faces a $3 million gap this year and even more next year.
"Hopefully, they will come back with some solutions, both money and ideas," he said


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