The TIGER grant projects will cost $38.5 million and thus eat up nearly half of a proposed $80 million loan. The grant will fund a desperately needed improvement for North State Street from Sheppard to Hartfield. However, the grant will also fund the extension of West County Line Road from its current east end to North State Street. The extension will cross a railroad so the grant will also pay for the construction of an overpass for the railroad line. Jackson officials cite the cost of these two projects as the main reason for borrowing $90 million against the 1% sales tax revenue. Some officials claimed the cost of the projects doubled but the original grant applications say otherwise.
*Discussion last over thirty minutes but the first seven minutes is the essential part to watch.
The TIGER grant projects will cost $38.5 million and thus eat up nearly half of the proposed $80 million loan (An additional $10 million is held in reserve as a "cushion"). The grant will fund a desperately needed improvement for North State Street from Seneca to Hartfield. However, the grant will also fund the extension of West County Line Road from its current east end to North State Street. The extension will cross a railroad so the grant will also pay for the construction of an overpass for the railroad line itself. The railroad will pass over the new road. See the map posted below:
Interim Public Works Director Gerriod Smash told the City Council at the February 27 meeting (See beginning of video) that the original amount was $16.5 million and that the city would have to provide a match of approximately $4 million. The match was thus around 20% of the grant award. The city was able to obtain another $3 million in TIGER grant funds last year.
However, Mr. Smash said the city's matching requirement increased to $19 million even though the TIGER grant only increased to $19.5 million. Thus the city's required matching funds increased from 20% to 50% of the project. Engineering Manager Dr. Charlie Williams told the City Council "that the cost of the total project had basically doubled." (4:15). Mr. Smash said the cost of the project doubled after the engineering work was completed. Dr. Williams said that the project for North State Street was changed from remilling and paving to actual reconstruction. He said the original funding amount of $16.5 million would not be enough even though the federal government awarded an additional $3 million.
Well, not so fast, my friend. Let us start from the beginning of this whole ordeal. The city applied for the TIGER grant in 2015. However, the application provided by the city and stated on the city's Greeningthegateways.com website said the cost would only be $19.5 million:
The City of Jackson, Mississippi, is requesting $19,490,000 in FY 2015 TIGER Discretionary Grant Capital Investment – Urban funds for surface transportation infrastructure improvements along multiple “gateway” corridors within the City. (Application is posted below)....Indeed, the application even has a section for "key" information:
Under this FY 2015 TIGER Discretionary Grant program request, it is proposed to make these improvements
along the following “Gateway” corridors within the City:
• North State Street
• West County Line Road
The website states $19.4 million as well is the amount of funds requested as well.
However, there is one little table on the second page of the application that mentions $35 million. That estimate is not mentioned anywhere else in the application or on the website. The city's matching requirement increases as well. See for yourself.
The table states that the total cost for the North State Street project would be $19 million and the West County Line Road project would be $16.5 million. The total cost would be $35.5 million. Thus the original grant application states that the total cost of the TIGER grant projects would be $35.5 million- a far cry from a $19 million grant requiring a 20% match. The North State Street project requires a match of $5.7 million while West County Line Road project requires $5 million.
The cost of the project did not "double" as it was over $35 million all along (Watch the video. Mr. Priester gives that part away.) What changed was the story told to the City Council and the Sales Tax Commission. The actual cost of the project rose while the grant stayed the same. There was no increase in a matching requirement by the federal government.
The footnote states that more information about the project can be found at appendix C. However, the application does not contain the appendix. However, it does provide a list of links to the appendices on the Greeningthegateways.com website at the end of the application. Unfortunately, the appendices are not posted on the website. There is very little actual information on the website. Only a few introductory paragraphs and a copy of the application are posted on the website.
Kingfish note: Ward 2 Councilman defended the loan and the TIGER grant on his Facebook page:
Update on last week's post about State Street, West County Line, and the TIGER Grant:Ah, yes. That is the little trap they've tried to spring on the taxpayers. He is correct when he says that we have to follow the specific guidelines of the grant. They handcuffed the North State Street Project to the Tougaloo Enhancement Project. Make no mistake, the goal of this entire exercise is to help Tougaloo College and its friends. There is quite a bit of undeveloped land sitting to the east of Tougaloo College. Spending $17 million to create a railroad overpass and connect West County Line Road to North State Street is not repairing the infrastructure in Jackson and is not why the legislature authorized the 1% sales tax. There is no way the West County Line Road project would be approved by the 1% Sales Tax Commission when the city has more desperate needs and everyone knows it. Thus they have to handcuff the Tougaloo development project to a major street in desperate need of repair and tell us to take it or leave it. The Mississippi Way continues while we wonder why nothing works.
We can't do just one of the TIGER Grant projects. If we don't do both of the TIGER Grant projects on the specified timeline, we will forfeit the entire grant.Also, to the extent we have already spent federal grant money, we will have to pay the feds that back if we pull out.Source: meeting today with MDOT state engineer for local projects who has been involved in making sure Jackson is in compliance with regs. associated with this federal grant.
Mr. Priester favors this project and borrowing $90 million because the projects are in his ward and help his friends. Oh yes, it can also be announced right before an election. However, we should call his bluff and stop this whole project and loan from taking place. Dr. Williams said the North State Street project would cost around $19 million, right? Simple solution. That is approximately the same as the city's required matching funds for the TIGER grant. Simple solution: Cancel the TIGER grant and use the 1% sales tax money to fund the North State Street project. Jackson can securitize the 1% sales tax to finance that project. Borrowing $20 million is cheaper than borrowing $90 million. The commission will probably approve a specific street project that is funded by a loan borrowed for that specific purpose.
It's about time someone said no to the Mississippi Way. It's time to tell Mr. Priester, Tougaloo, and those pushing this deal no.