Monroe Journal

Aberdeen aldermen discuss infrastructure, federal building

By Ray Van Dusen

ABERDEEN – From flood control to use tax funds to the Thomas G. Abernethy Federal Building, infrastructure was the centralized topic of Feb. 4’s board of aldermen meeting.

Board members and citizens weighed in on the need for preventative maintenance to help alleviate continued flood conditions in certain areas of town. Talking specific to an area in his ward, Ward 3 Alderman David Ewing said there are drainage issues due to roots and trees alongside James and Canal streets.

“I’m into preventative maintenance. Every month at my house, I put salt down my trap because I have tree roots too. I was wondering if there is any way anywhere we can start maintaining some pipe or killing some roots on trees with salt?” asked Ward 4 Alderwoman Carolyn Odom.

The board approved for city crews to take a closer look at the Ward 3 drainage issues.

Later in the meeting, Ward 1 Alderman Alonzo Sykes said areas alongside Park Street need addressing to help prevent flood issues as well.

In other business, aldermen approved to set up a bank account for funds the city will receive for infrastructure improvements from the state through the Mississippi Modernization Act of 2018.

“We have received our first payment, but it can only be used on streets, water, bridges and sewer. It cannot be used on any new projects,” said city clerk Jackie Benson. “The city will be getting two payments per year. We just got $25,000 this time. We’ll get 25 percent, then 50 percent in 2021, 75 in 2022 and 100 percent in 2023.”

According to the Mississippi Department of Revenue, use tax applies to taxes on goods purchased for storage, use or other consumption in the state. It applies to purchases on items shipped or delivered from out of state locations. It also applies to items purchased in Mississippi if sales tax was not paid at the time of the purchase.

City engineer Dustin Dabbs gave an update about a new box culvert to be installed underneath High Extended, which has already been constructed.

“I think there are some issues we need to work through and verify on the site before the contractor can install it. It’s holding some water. There are a couple of spots we’ve got some trees down. Before we replace that culvert, I want to come up with a plan to do some cleaning,” he said. “We’re going to put in a bigger box culvert that meets the 100-year floodplain. I don’t want to send a bunch of extra water downstream without having the capacity downstream to handle that.”

The board approved a supplemental agreement to close out a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant for sidewalk improvements alongside High, South Franklin, Vine and Dr. R.E. Woodruff streets.

A matter of installing new lights at the Aberdeen Sportsplex was tabled.

Sykes brought up an item mentioned months ago regarding renaming streets. The board approved to change the name of Martin Luther King Street to General Young Street, and Benson will check with MDOT and Monroe County 911 about the possibility of changing the name of Highway 25 to honor Martin Luther King from one one city limits border to the other.

During the Feb. 3 board of supervisors meeting, Odom approached county leaders about the possibility of the parking area of the former Holley Performance building to be used for 18-wheeler parking, since it’s not no longer an option at the former cotton compress site.

Aldermen approved for the space to be used for parking with no liability to the city or county, contingent on if the county approves it.

The unforeseen future of a federal building

A day after giving the same update to the board of supervisors, Judge Sharion Aycock addressed the status on the fight to keep the mold remediation project at the Thomas G. Abernethy Federal Building active.

The project is currently being rescoped, and it’s the highest priority project its owner, General Services Administration (GSA), has in the United States.

The project moved from the jurisdiction of GSA’s Region 4 to Region 7, which Aycock said is beneficial. She hopes to learn an updated figure for the building’s renovation soon and said GSA is searching for extra funding available through every building it owns across the country for this project.

“If for some unforeseen reason we don’t get the funding, is there a possibility that we’ll lose the courts?” said Mayor Maurice Howard.

“You don’t have court in Aberdeen now. Unless that’s renovated or restored...that building is deemed uninhabitable, dangerous to one’s health by FOH [Federal Occupational Health],” Aycock said. “We’ve got to do court somewhere, and it’s getting harder and harder. We’re trying to use bankruptcy as much as we can. If I have in-custody offenders, I have to be in Oxford because I don’t have a holding cell at bankruptcy. The Gilmore Foundation building is a lovely office space, and we’re fortunate to have that, but it’s just an office space. We don’t have any courtrooms, we don’t have a space.”

Aycock applauded Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Sen. Roger Wicker’s offices for their work in addressing the project. Ward 2 Alderman Doug Stone asked if it would be expedient for city officials to contact the legislators, but she said not until more information is available.

Questions from the public included the Post Office’s role in the matter and if a previous proposed funding source through the Tennessee Valley Authority was still an option.

She doesn’t have any internal understanding of the Post Office’s national push for having the building renovated but said the TVA funding is so minimal it probably isn’t salvageable.

“If we’re going to keep our courthouse, while we are waiting to hear, we need to pray. It could be detrimental to Aberdeen. Whatever you do, don’t forget to pray,” Sykes said.