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Is regional system answer to Jackson water crisis?

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State, business leaders consider regionalization of Jackson water system. Local officials hate the idea

When the latest emergency in Jackson’s long-running water crisis hit — most of the city lost water again from a combination of broken or ill-maintained machinery and — state leaders began talking of intervention.

And one of the first ideas floated in backroom discussions was creating a “regional authority” to oversee and overhaul waterworks for Jackson and, ostensibly, other areas, particularly those surrounding areas already on the capital city’s system.

This would make sense. Regionalization and consolidation of water and sewer services has been a trend nationwide. Regionalization appears to help garner favor — and funding — from Congress and environmental agencies. Studies by experts say regional approaches allow systems to comply with stricter standards, connect unserved communities to water and sewerage and, importantly, save customers money using economies of scale for upgrades and repairs.

Jackson’s chamber of commerce has called for creation of a regional water authority. And there’s growing sentiment among many Mississippi leaders that someone other than the city of Jackson should run or help run the system. But so far, talk of a regional authority for Jackson and surrounds has gained little traction, particularly with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and leaders in areas around Jackson.

The realpolitik is a true regional water system would be a tough sell in the Jackson Metro Area. It would appear no other cities want to be in a regional water authority with Jackson, and state leaders are unlikely to force it. A regional authority, as it stands, would more likely include only Jackson and some small systems in and be run largely by the state, with Jackson having some say, but not control over the system.

After Hurricane destroyed systems, Mississippi Gulf Coast governments formed regional water authorities and a large regional wastewater authority and it helped them pull down hundreds of millions of federal dollars to rebuild and expand. It took some doing, politically, with local governments reluctant to give up any autonomy. But ultimately then-Gov. Haley Barbour and legislative leaders sold them on the concept.

Across the country, as aging large or poorly amortized smaller systems struggle to meet regulations and finance upgrades, there’s been a realization they can’t afford it on their own. There’s power in numbers, and economies-of-scale savings for residents. Sometimes, there’s special money available for regionalization.

READ MORE: Jackson’s water system, by the numbers

Some states, such as North Carolina, incentivize consolidation. Others, such as California, force it. Kentucky has long been a leader in water system regionalization, and since the 1970s has reduced its more than 3,000 water systems to less than 800.

Some cities, such as Detroit and Harrisburg, Pa., have used regionalization to navigate water crises like Jackson’s with some success.

But for Mississippi’s capital city, the trend is going the other way — other cities or areas served by its water and sewerage have either left or are trying to. Some large institutions have dug their own wells, and others are considering it. Jackson has run regional sewage operations for Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties since 1973, but recently, West Rankin Utility Authority pulled out and has built its own new plant to serve Brandon, Flowood, Pearl, Richland and other areas.

Byram wants out

“I have concerns this thing has finally hit bottom, and we need a change, need to move on,” said Richard White, mayor of Byram, a relatively new city bordering the capital city and served by Jackson’s water system. “… We need to be dealing with development, parks and recreation, not having to worry about our water. We’re going to move forward with our own system.”

White said being on Jackson’s water system has provided nothing but frustration for residents of the fledgling city of about 13,000 people to Jackson’s south, with water outages and boil-water notices, bills for some Byram residents double those inside Jackson and reported breaks taking Jackson weeks to repair. Plus, Byram has no representation or say in how the system is run.

State Sen. David Blount, who represents parts of Jackson and Byram, said that whatever solutions are found for Jackson’s water crisis, “It is essential for me that the people of Byram have a voice.”

“After Hurricane Katrina a lot of people in Mississippi felt like we weren’t being heard in the national conversation because so much focus was on New Orleans,” Blount said. “Obviously, the people of Jackson deserve attention, but the people of Byram cannot be forgotten in this … There are people in Byram paying more than double, and getting worse service, if that’s imaginable.”

For Byram residents and businesses further than one mile outside Jackson’s city limits, the Public Service Commission sets their rates, and they are commensurate with what Jackson residents pay. But for those within one mile — a large portion of Byram’s most populated area — the Jackson City Council sets their rates.

“That 1 mile is at double (Jackson’s) rates,” White said. “I heard from one family — they have two small children — that was getting bills for $200 a month for water … Then I’ve got other people who call me all the time and say they haven’t gotten a bill in six months.”

Byram leaders have hired an engineering firm to price a buyout of Jackson’s water pipes in the city and installing new wells and tanks and petitioned the Public Service Commission for its water independence. White said that given a green light, Byram could have its own system up and running within a couple of years. Byram already has its own sewerage. He said that given Jackson’s problems in maintaining its system, Byram would be doing it a favor by peeling off.

White said joining a regional authority with Jackson would be a nonstarter for Byram and, “That may be too much government, too, creating a new group.

“We want out.”

Clinton creates regional authority, but not with Jackson

Clinton, Jackson’s neighbor to the west with a population of more than 28,000, has its own infrastructure issues.

To meet wastewater discharge regulations, the city needs to build a 19-mile, $97 million pipeline to the Big Black River by 2030, largely because Jackson and other areas are already discharging more treated (and sometimes untreated) wastewater than the Pearl River can handle.

Mayor Phil Fisher and other city leaders have been working on this issue for years. They have a concise plan and have secured about $25 million in funding “from several separate pots” so far and believe they have matters in hand. They hired a lobbyist to help secure funding from Congress. They are forming a regional authority with neighboring cities of Bolton and Raymond, who would face similar wastewater issues if left on their own.

“Congress appears to prefer an authority rather than Raymond and Bolton just feeding into Clinton,” Fisher said. “You need a coordinated effort that makes sense and answers a bigger need. From Bolton’s and Raymond’s perspective, they need an authority, they could never come up with the match for any of this, and even Clinton’s too small for that. Coming together allows us a chance to work as a group and plan, and then Congress looks at that with a lot more enthusiasm than if Raymond just showed up and said (environmental regulators) have an issue and we need money and put it together really quick.”

Fisher said he believes Clinton’s detailed, long-range planning for the project and using a regional approach will allow the project to move forward, including with help from a state infrastructure matching program.

And instead of looking at the large wastewater project as a problem, Fisher said it’s an opportunity for Clinton and surrounding areas.

“That’s going to be 19 miles one way to the Big Black, paralleling I-20,” Fisher said. “So going both ways, that’s going to be 38 miles of mostly unused land that that can be converted to residential, commercial, retail development. All it’s lacking is water and sewer. We have trucking, rail, the port in Vicksburg and if Hinds County would ever build it we’ll have air. This land along I-20 could become the largest and most valuable economic development area maybe in the Southeast.”

Fisher said at least one small rural water association has expressed interest in joining in with the authority’s sewerage and he believes others would follow suit and, “I envision one day all coming together under one water association.”

But not with Jackson.

Fisher said that, given Jackson’s water and sewage problems, it wouldn’t make sense financially or politically for Clinton to join in with its larger neighbor.

“I think I would be run out of town if I made that proposal,” Fisher said. “The only way I could see anyone joining an authority with Jackson would be if they had an equal number of votes on running it, no matter their size.”

But Fisher said it’s in Clinton’s — and the entire state’s — best interest for Jackson’s water and sewer issues to be resolved.

“Nationwide, people don’t know that Jackson and Clinton have two separate systems,” Fisher said. “… Last year, Jackson was No. 1 in murder rate per capita. People are seeing the water crisis now. It makes it difficult for surrounding cities to go out and make a good story. Jackson needs to fix its problems, quit finding excuses or finger pointing or getting up at a press conference and criticizing others.”

But Fisher, whose city has for years used a private company to manage some sewer operations but still owns the system, provided a warning to his neighboring city about full-scale privatization.

“If you sell your system, they’ll buy it, but the hook is, you get money up front and they won’t change the rates for five years, but then it’s Katy bar the door,” Fisher said. “Then, you’ll have the legislative mindset with city leaders: ‘Hey, I didn’t raise your rates, they did.’ Everybody elected will have something to hide behind, but at the end of the day the city loses control over rates.”

Jackson opposed to giving up control

At least publicly, the only common denominator idea for fixing Jackson’s water crisis mentioned by Gov. Tate Reeves, Lumumba and others is privatization, at least of operations and maintenance of Jackson water. But privatization comes with a cost, usually borne by water customers.

Studies have shown that privatization can leave residents with higher water bills, poor service and loss of control to fix problems. One study by the nonprofit Food and Water Watch recently showed investor-owned utilities typically charge 59% more for water and 63% more for sewer service than government utilities.

Nationwide, many cities that turned to privatization years ago are now ending their contracts, taking their utilities back over and partnering with neighboring communities.

Mayor Lumumba has said he has talked with a company about contracting out operations and maintenance of the system, but is adamant he doesn’t want the city to lose ownership or major control of the system. He has in the past accused state leaders of wanting to use privatization as a power and money grab against Jackson, and he said private companies don’t do work out of benevolence, but “They want to extract a profit from you.”

He has also expressed skepticism about joining a regional authority.

Some leaders and pundits have discussed an outright state takeover of the system, but legally and politically that would be arduous, and as some have pointed out, the state has no real expertise in running a water system or manpower on hand to do so. As one observer recently put it, that would be “like getting a D student to do your homework for you.”

Another option proposed has been a temporary receivership, perhaps overseen by the Public Service Commission until problems are resolved.

Jackson’s legislative delegation hasn’t endorsed a specific solution, but most share Lumumba’s opposition to the city losing ownership or control of its system.

“I was actually having a conversation at lunch today about regionalization,” Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, said last week. “I’m not sure if that’s the best route. I’m still researching it … But that’s an issue, anyone wanting to work as a region. Didn’t Rankin County just come off of our sewer? That’s another blow, $3 million to $5 million. You’ve got Byram wanting to leave. I’m hearing the Country Club of Jackson is trying to do its own water well, and Jackson State. Honestly, the attitude of those folks out there is they don’t want anything to do with us in the first place, and the only way they would join us is if they have a majority of board members — and that would be an entire fight all over again.”

“If there is any private company brought in, I would still support the city owning it,” Bell said. “At the end of the day, if it makes sense for someone to run it under contract, that’s one thing. But just having the state take over… .”

State Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said he’s mostly been focused on resolving the current emergency with water, and that any talk of long-range solutions “is in the very early stages.”

“Whatever we do has to be inclusive and well thought-out and very deliberate,” Horhn said. “… I lean towards the city being able to hold onto its assets, but it’s very clear it needs to outsource operations. The mayor himself has let it be known he’s been in contact with a third-party administrator”

As for creation of a regional authority to run the system, Horhn said, “All that’s above my pay grade. But I favor the city being able to retain ownership of its assets.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi Today wins Sidney Award for Jackson water crisis coverage

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Mississippi Today wins prestigious Sidney Award for coverage of Jackson water crisis

Reporter Alex Rozier and the Mississippi Today newsroom have won the September Sidney Award for their coverage of the Jackson water crisis.

The drinking water system in Jackson — Mississippi’s largest city and home to more than 150,000 residents — failed in late August, leaving thousands of capital city residents with low or no water pressure and little information about when service would be restored.

Mississippi Today’s newsroom sprung to action, deploying every journalist on staff to the story to provide accurate, timely information residents needed immediately. The staff has published more than five dozen stories about the crisis so far in September, covering a broad range of angles. The journalists also relied on public records to add investigative context to why the water system had failed and what was needed to fix it.

The newsroom circulated a text messaging line to reach Jacksonians directly, published an FAQ post, provided resource pages about where to find water and mutual aid links, and partnered with local television station WJTV to stream every major conference live.

READ MORE: Mississippi Today’s complete coverage of the Jackson water crisis

“Covering this crisis is deeply personal for us,” said Mississippi Today Managing Editor Kayleigh Skinner, highlighting that most newsroom reporters live inside the city limits themselves. “When readers send in questions about whether it’s safe to use their dishwasher, or where in the city they can go to receive free bottled water, we do our best to find them answers because it’s our job, but also because it’s information we need, too.”

The Sidney Award is awarded to outstanding journalism that appeared in the prior month. It is run by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which honors excellence in journalism in service of the common good, and upholds the legacy and vision of union pioneer and New Deal architect Sidney Hillman. 

Winners so far in 2022 are: The Washington Post, Miami Herald, THE CITY, Reuters, The New York Times, ProPublica, Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, and now Mississippi Today.

Mississippi Today’s deep understanding and long-standing coverage of the Jackson water crisis contributed significantly to the newsroom’s winning, Sidney judges wrote.

“Mississippi Today has been on this story for years,” said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein. “They’re proceeding with determination, creativity and compassion, which shines through in their ongoing coverage.” 

Alex Rozier is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter and has covered the Jackson water crisis and for several years. He leads the Mississippi Today Jackson water crisis team, which consists of Anna Wolfe, Geoff Pender, Julia James, Molly Minta, Rick Cleveland, Bobby Harrison, Mina Corpuz, Kate Royals, Isabelle Taft, Will Stribling, Adam Ganucheau, Kayleigh Skinner, Sara DiNatale, Lauchlin Fields, Bethany Atkinson, Nigel Dent, Alyssa Bass, Eric Shelton, Vickie King and Marshall Ramsey.

Sidney Award judges are Jamelle Bouie, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alix Freedman, Harold Meyerson, vanden Heuvel, and Lindsay Beyerstein.

READ MORE: Mississippi Today wins September Sidney for Crusading Coverage of Jackson Water Crisis

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Gulfport Museum of History opens Hurricane Katrina photography exhibit

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www.wxxv25.com – Lorraine Weiskopf – 2022-09-08 21:25:04

A new exhibit at the of History unveiled a collection entitled ‘ Images Revisited.’

“This lady, Carmen, was just off Howard Avenue when I walked up and there was debris everywhere and she was sweeping and cleaning and she had this incredible positive attitude and she said ‘I am karate mamma and I will survive.” James Bates worked for the Sun Herald as a photographer during Hurricane Katrina. The photo he calls ‘Karate Mamma’ is one his favorites in the exhibit.

For him, it captures the fighting spirit of people determined to rebuild…

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State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis

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State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis

While local, state and federal officials scramble to restore the city of Jackson’s failed water system in the short-term, Mississippi state lawmakers and legislative leaders are meeting privately this week to discuss long-term solutions for the capital city’s collapsing system.

State officials knowledgeable of the deliberations agree that the immediate need is to restore an adequate flow to all parts of the city and end the need to boil water for drinking. But they also stress that much more is needed for a long-term fix for Jackson’s water system.

That fix will require legislation — both at the state level and perhaps on the federal level.

Members of Jackson’s legislative delegation met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba Wednesday afternoon and planned to meet with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson Wednesday night to discuss possible long-term solutions.

Thompson, who represents a large swath of the capital city, has vowed support of a workable plan to fix the water system. U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, who also represents a small portion of Jackson, said, “I am working in Congress to help find solutions and to put Jackson back on a pathway to being the capital city we need and deserve, but it is going to take a combined effort from leaders at all levels.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the only statewide Republican who owns a home inside the city of Jackson, has been meeting with Jackson lawmakers and other prominent state leaders since before the Jackson water system failed to brainstorm ideas for a permanent solution.

Various proposals have emerged in these talks over the past week, several people with direct knowledge of the deliberations told Mississippi Today. The ideas include:

  • Creating a “regional water authority” to run the system, which also serves Byram and parts of .
  • Putting the city water system in a temporary conservatorship run by the state Public Service Commission, with the goal of passing the system back to city leaders after service has been restored.
  • Creating some new state entity or commission to take full, permanent control of the city’s water system.
  • Privatizing Jackson’s water system, leasing it to a private company that would manage it moving forward.

Hosemann said in an interview with Mississippi Today on Wednesday that he’s been “saddened and sickened” by the water crisis and watching it make national . He said a long-term fix for Jackson’s water and sewerage will be an expensive, “monumental task.” But he vowed: “We will have a plan, and we will put Jackson back on its water feet.”

Hosemann said the task now at hand for a long-term solution is for state, federal, city of Jackson and Hinds County leaders to “first get a cogent plan.”

But getting this large group of politicians to agree on one single plan hasn’t been accomplished after many years of effort. Any of the options currently being discussed would require Jackson giving up at least some autonomy and control of its water operations.

As recently as 2021, city leaders including Lumumba have bristled at state attempts to ride herd over the city. These efforts include an attempted state takeover of Jackson’s regional airport, the state requiring a special board to oversee infrastructure work funded by a special 1-cent city sales tax, and recently lawmakers requiring state oversight of federal pandemic stimulus money for water and sewerage projects — requirements that were not placed on other cities.

Lumumba has described such state attitudes toward the capital city as “paternalistic” and “racist.” There has been an icy relationship between the majority Black, majority Democratic capital city and the white Republican state leadership that runs most of state government from Jackson.

But Hosemann said he doesn’t foresee such issues hindering teamwork on solving the water crisis. He noted Lumumba this week said he welcomes state assistance dealing with the issue. Both Hosemann and Gov. Tate Reeves, who is leading the state’s response to the short-term crisis, said they’ve met with the mayor and the city’s legislative delegation in recent days.

This would appear to be progress, although it’s notable that Lumumba and other city leaders have been absent at Reeves’ and state leaders’ recent press conferences on emergency water operations and vice versa.

Lumumba addressed this in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve heard people say we’re having dueling press conferences,” Lumumba said. “That is not how I would characterize it.” He said he and Reeves are both trying to address the public “early and often” and are “leaning forward.” He said there is a “cooperative effort.”

A prevailing question about a state-sanctioned, long-term fix of the water system is whether the governor will call a special session soon or wait for the regular session in 2023 to address the water crisis.

Reeves recently said his primary focus is solving the immediate problem and that at some point legislators “would be able to weigh in a potential … long-term solution.” He said he had pledged to work with them on that solution.

Sen. John Horhn, a Democrat from Jackson, said waiting to the regular session “would give us time to come up with a strategy to determine what kind of system it will be (moving forward) and who will own it.”

Horhn said, “If state officials are going to provide a significant portion of the resources, we are going to want a say” in the operation of the system.

The mayor has estimated that solution would cost more than $1 billion.

Rep. Earle Banks, a Democrat from Jackson, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday he and several other Jackson lawmakers support potential legislation that would place the city’s water system in a conservatorship “under the auspices of the three-member Public Service Commission.” The PSC could contract with outside companies to help run the system while the multiple problems were addressed. Then at some point down the road, the operation of the system would be returned to Jackson city government.

The PSC, which regulates most utilities in the state, currently has no authority over the Jackson water system. The PSC could petition a court for an order to take over a rural system facing similar issues.

Hosemann on Wednesday mentioned the regionalized water authority idea. He said the state “has a history with regional water authority” on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane ’s destruction of numerous water systems. He said Jackson’s system could be considered regional because it already serves the city of Byram and parts of Hinds County.

Some of those Coast systems at the time of Katrina had been in disrepair and struggling, and the creation of a six-county regional authority was required to qualify for federal money to not just replace them, but rebuild them bigger and better.

However, there was great infighting among cities and counties wanting to control their own water systems, and in the end, the Coast regional authority passed by lawmakers in 2006 was really regional in name only, and the legislation also created six separate county authorities, allowed any who wanted to opt out, and allowed cities to mostly run their own systems.

Hosemann said he wrote a letter last week to Jackson and Hinds County elected leaders urging them to put up all they can of the combined $87 million they received in federal pandemic stimulus money. The Legislature this year passed a program to match any such spending on water and sewerage 1-to-1 with federal money the state received.

The city has planned to earmark $25 million of its money, and Hinds County leaders have discussed pledging about $8 million. Both have earmarked millions of their funds for other things. Hosemann said they should reconsider this, and put more of it up for the state infrastructure match, and use it to address Jackson’s water issues.

“I will be greatly disappointed if they don’t spend more of it on this,” Hosemann said. He said the state also still has $345 million of its pandemic funds it hasn’t spent. He said he’s also hopeful that the federal government will help with funding for solving Jackson’s crisis.

Some members of Jackson’s legislative delegation are beginning to publicly acknowledge that the city handing over at least some control to the state is a necessity.

“To get the money the state controls, I expect state leaders to insist on changes to the Jackson water system,” state Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, said in social media post. “I am open to any discussion, provided that it 1) must include significant money that is sufficient to fix the problem and 2) protects the citizens, especially low income citizens, with fair water rates. If we can convince the governor and state legislative leaders to spend what is needed to fix our water system, we must say YES. Inaction and complaints are not an option.”

“I especially want to point out that this problem is bigger than Jackson,” Blount continued.

Banks, the state representative, said there are three issues facing Jackson’s water and sewer infrastructure. They are:

  • The immediate problem of the water treatment plants failures caused by a number of factors, including recent and the inability of the city to properly staff the plants.
  • The aging distribution system, which consists of 1,500 miles of pipes, some 100 years old, that often break, especially during extreme cold weather. Break in February 2021 during a winter storm resulted in a prolonged citywide water failure.
  • Wastewater issues that have resulted in the city dumping millions of tons or raw sewage into the Pearl River or its tributaries.

All of those issues have placed the city in the crosshairs of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the recent lack of water pressure in many parts of the city has resulted in issuing a federal disaster proclamation.

On Wednesday, Lumumba said he spoke with both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom assured him there will be federal help.

“They both assured me that we will have the full arm of support from the federal government in any possible way we can help,” Lumumba said.

That federal aid will provide the state and city technical assistance through the Corps of Engineers to help ensure the water pumps are operational.

In addition Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton announced Wednesday that the National Association of Water Companies, a group of the nation’s largest water utilities, “are willing to provide free technical assistance with boots on the ground.” Presley said he would be “connecting” the group with the Agency.

While local, state and federal leaders begin to draw battle lines over a permanent fix, the water system’s failure has spurred unprecedented state and federal level conversations about long-term solutions.

“We will not fail at this,” Hosemann said on Wednesday. “We’ve faced catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina as a neighborhood. Mississippi is a neighborhood, and 200,000 of our citizens are in trouble. We are going to get central Mississippi back on its feet.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Feast On Fresh Shrimp At The Blind Tiger Bay In Mississippi

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by Cadence Summers, Only In Your State


It’s no secret that Mississippi is home to some legendary seafood restaurants all across the state. If you are craving great, locally-caught seafood in a relaxed atmosphere that still provides plenty of color and interest, look no further than The Blind Tiger in Bay St Louis!

This article first appeared on Only In Your State.

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Health department seeks outside review of COVID-19 response

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‘What happened?’ Health department will hire an outsider to evaluate Mississippi COVID-19 response

How well did Mississippi respond to the pandemic? The health department is hiring an outside contractor to answer that question. 

The contractor, who should start work in early November, will conduct interviews with people involved in a wide range of pandemic response efforts, from contact tracing and COVID testing to hospital operations and public information. They’ll prepare an “after-action report” that will reconstruct and analyze Mississippi’s response – including how well state and local agencies followed emergency response plans – and offer suggestions for improvement. 

Department staff typically prepare after-action reports following disasters or public health emergencies. But because of the scope of the pandemic response, which lasted more than 800 days, the department is hiring a contractor this time, Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection, said in a statement to Mississippi Today.

Craig said the report will be used to improve pandemic planning and preparedness. The department will use federal funds to pay the contractor.

Just shy of 13,000 Mississippians have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to health department data. Nearly 900,000 cases have been reported in the state. 

During the first year of the pandemic, Mississippi was frequently one of the first states to loosen restrictions on masking and crowds in public places. Months after Gov. Tate Reeves lifted the state’s mask mandate, as cases surged during the delta wave, he called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for indoor masking “foolish.”

Mississippi had the highest per capita number of deaths of any state in the country, with 427 deaths for every 100,000 people, according to the New York Times. The national average was 311. 

A report by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund released in June ranked Mississippi’s pandemic response last among 50 states and the District of Columbia. Mississippi scored particularly poorly in premature deaths from treatable causes – ranking 51st – and out-of-pocket medical costs for employees. 

Mississippi also saw the country’s highest percentage increase in the drug overdose rate from 2019 to 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund

The report produced for the health department will take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the agency’s pandemic response. The analysis will answer questions including:

  • “What happened? What was supposed to happen based on current plans, policies and procedures?
  • Was there a difference? What was the impact?
  • Do plans, policies, and procedures support activities and associated tasks? 
  • Are MSDH responders familiar with these documents?”

According to the request for proposals, the state recently conducted feedback sessions with regional health department team members. The results of those sessions will be shared with the contractor chosen to write the report. 

The 59-page request offers a sense of the scope of the state’s pandemic response, which involved thousands of people working at the health department, Agency (), Mississippi Department of Human Services, the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Board of Animal Health, the National Guard and the Department of Environmental Quality, as well as private contractors. 

The state had operated 916 testing sites as of April 7, 2022 and processed over 3,200,000 PCR tests as of late April. 

The contract will last until early November 2023 but may be renewed by the health department for an additional year.

The department also hired an outside contractor to evaluate its response to Hurricane .

“The lessons learned from the Katrina after-action report furthered the health and medical response to hurricanes in Mississippi,” Craig said.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

A Winning Bet: Post-Katrina Law moves Coast casinos on land

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www.wxxv25.com – Sabria Reid – 2022-08-02 21:26:36

This week we celebrate the 30th anniversary of legalized casino gambling in Mississippi.

After Hurricane ’s destruction along the Coast, the gaming industry almost went with it. 25’s Sabria Reid has more on the legislation which saved Mississippi’s winning bet.

A historic natural disaster changed Mississippi’s gaming industry forever. August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated , killing 236 people, leaving 67 people missing, and billions of dollars of damage. M2 Media Corp Owner Michael Sunderman said, “I came back a day and a…

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Mississippi’s historic available state revenue

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Mississippi in midst of historic times in terms of available state revenue

Late in the 2021 session, legislative leaders set a revenue estimate of $5.93 billion. That estimate represented the amount of revenue the state was expected to collect in the upcoming fiscal year and the amount anticipated to be available to fund the budget.

That fiscal year ended on June 30, and the state in reality — based on early numbers —collected $7.38 billion or about $1.46 billion more than the estimate set way back at the end of the legislative session in April 2021. In other words, lawmakers budgeted based on expected revenue of $5.94 billion, but the state collected $7.38 billion instead, resulting in the surplus.

According to data compiled by the staff of the Legislative Budget Committee, revenue collections for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2021, and ended on June 30 increased 9.5% year over year. That spike in revenue collections comes on top of an increase of a record-breaking 15.9% for the prior fiscal year. It is important to note that in most fiscal years growth in revenue collections is 3% or less.

In terms of state revenue collections, these are truly historic times. The only time in recent memory when the state experienced similar growth was in the 1990s with the start of casino gambling and all the construction related to the new industry and in the 2000s in the aftermath of Hurricane and the construction that ensued after the Gulf Coast was pummeled. The above average growth for the 1990s lasted for much of the decade while the growth after Katrina was more short-lived, lasting only a couple of years.

Time will tell how long the current revenue growth spurt lasts, but the past two-year period is unprecedented even when to what occurred during the casino boon and what happened after Katrina.

During the past fiscal year, sales tax revenue grew 13.8% or $309.3 million while income tax revenue inceased $273.4 million or 12.3%.

In other categories for the just completed fiscal year:

  • Oil and gas severance taxes grew $15.5 million or 85%.
  • Use tax collections increased $20.2 million or 5%.
  • Casino tax revenue grew $15.4 million or 10%.
  • Corporate tax collections increased $9.4 million or 1.1%.
  • Revenue from the tax on cigarettes, beer and liquor decreased $10.9 million or 3.8%

The staff of the Legislative Budget Committee, which tracks state revenue, has long said that the final surplus tally is not known annually until sometime in August when the books are closed on the prior fiscal year. But based on the early numbers, the surplus — somewhere around $1.4 billion — will be the largest recorded at the end of a fiscal year.

The Legislature will most likely decide what to do with those surplus funds during the upcoming legislative session beginning in January. The Legislature entered the 2022 session with about $1.1 billion in surplus funds and spent $956 million of those funds on projects and on specific needs for state agencies, leaving about $150 million in what is known as the capital expense fund.

The Legislature opted to spend the funds on literally hundreds of projects, such as building and renovation projects on various governmental properties and on projects. In the past when such gargantuan surpluses did not exist, the Legislature paid for such projects by issuing long-term debt.

After an initial drop in state tax collections in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, revenue soared and has continued to soar. Threats of a national recession have not slowed Mississippi’s revenue collections.

Mississippi is not unique. Federal stimulus funds provided to deal with the coronavirus have helped spur tax collections in nearly every state. In addition, increased wages have provided the states more revenue from the taxes levied on income. And inflation also has provided states more revenue — especially for states more reliant on the sales tax such as Mississippi.

After all, a 7% sales tax on groceries now generates more revenue for the state since groceries cost more thanks to inflation. The same can be said for car sales and for just about every other retail item impacted by inflation.

In the 2021 session, legislators did not consider the impact of inflation when budgeting. Most agencies received small increases in funding or no increase at all other than for specified purposes. But in reality, gas and various other items that schools and state agencies must purchase have increased in cost thanks to inflation. If the Legislature does not provide funds for those increased costs during the 2023 session, many schools and other state agencies could have difficulty making ends meet.

Legislators have no excuse not to fund those inflationary needs. No doubt, the Legislature will have the surplus funds needed to do so.

READ MORE: Many states used surpluses to give taxpayers a rebate. Not Mississippi.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi Stories: Jason McDonald

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2022-06-30 14:26:25, 1656617185

In this episode of , Editor-at-Large Marshall Ramsey sits down with one of the owners and founders of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, Jason McDonald.

Jason graduated valedictorian of his class at Hammond High [Magnet] School in Hammond, Louisiana. He graduated from Millsaps College in 2001 with a BA in Religious Studies. He attended law school at Mississippi College School of Law until 2010, when he realized that law was not his life’s work. In January 2010, Jason became a partner of McDonald Land and Timber, LLC with other members of his family.

As a timber farmer, Jason saw first-hand the decimation that a hurricane the size of can leave in its wake for farmers. Jason set off to find a crop that is ethically sustainable and environmentally friendly and can survive a hurricane with little to no damage. Jason stumbled upon a venture in the land of his forefathers in South Carolina–The Charleston Tea Plantation. Jason decided that tea may well be the next boom crop for Mississippi and the United States–after all, tea is the second-most consumed beverage on the planet besides water. There is only one problem; tea is not widely grown in the First World because of labor costs and human rights.

Jason has set about researching all aspects of the industry, consulting with some of the most decorated people in the tea world, and enlisting many industrial, manufacturing, and machine professionals to tear apart and rebuild the tea industry to make it work in the developed world, just as he did when he was a child. It is because of this curiosity and ingenuity that we are proud to have him as the driving force behind The Great Mississippi Tea Company. His is a story of resilience, pivoting, growing and entrepreneurial spirit. And The Great Mississippi Tea Company continues to grow and win international acclaim for its Mississippi-grown teas.

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The Great Mississippi Tea Company’s Jason McDonald

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Mississippi Stories: Jason McDonald

In this episode of , Mississippi Today Editor-at-Large Marshall Ramsey sits down with one of the owners and founders of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, Jason McDonald. Jason graduated valedictorian of his class at Hammond High [Magnet] School in Hammond, Louisiana. He graduated from Millsaps College in 2001 with a BA in Religious Studies. He attended law school at Mississippi College School of Law until 2010, when he realized that law was not his life’s work.

In January 2010, Jason became a partner of McDonald Land and Timber, LLC with other members of his family. As a timber farmer, Jason saw first-hand the decimation that a hurricane the size of can leave in its wake for farmers. Jason set off to find a crop that is ethically sustainable and environmentally friendly and can survive a hurricane with little to no damage. Jason stumbled upon a venture in the land of his forefathers in South Carolina, The Charleston Tea Plantation. Jason decided that tea may well be the next boom crop for Mississippi and the United States, after all, tea is the second-most consumed beverage on the planet besides water. There is only one problem; tea is not widely grown in the First World because of labor costs and human rights.

Jason has set about researching all aspects of the industry, consulting with some of the most decorated people in the tea world, and enlisting many industrial, manufacturing, and machine professionals to tear apart and rebuild the tea industry to make it work in the developed world, just as he did when he was a child. It is because of this curiosity and ingenuity that we are proud to have him as the driving force behind The Great Mississippi Tea Company. His is a story of resilience, pivoting, growing and entrepreneurial spirit. And The Great Mississippi Tea Company continues to grow and win international acclaim for its Mississippi-grown teas.

Sponsored by the .



This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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