County puts Jonestown Bypass on hold



The Jonestown Bypass will have to wait for the COVID-19 crisis to pass and county revenue to get healthier.

The Coahoma County Board of Supervisors has put on hold plans to let the bid on the Jonestown Bypass after looking at the low bid of $2,605,736.24 by M&N Excavators was opened recently and the county determined it would have to wait until additional funding could be found.

“We have local and private legislation pending that will allow us to access our Hospital Reserve fund,” said Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson, this week. “I want people to understand we would borrow from the hospital funds and have to pay them back.”

Earlier this month supervisors discussed raising taxes up to 4 mills to service a $4 million it would make from the Hospital Reserve fund. Supervisors have said they want to review the project at their June 1 meeting.

A local and private bill sponsored by State Representative Orlando Paden that has been referred to the House Local and Private Committee would borrow money from the county’s Hospital Reserve fund to finance a loan that would pay for the justice center and the Jonestown project. As required, the county would have to pay that money back to the fund.

“We have to see what the (Mississippi) Legislature is going to do,” said Newson. “We don’t have money in place now to do both.”

Supervisors initially looked at borrowing approximately $2 million to pay for the justice center and added the Jonestown bypass to their list May 4. The board voted to hire bond attorneys and amend Paden’s bill to include the Jonestown bypass in House Bill 1586.

One mill added to the county’s ad valorem tax raises approximately $100,000 and it was projected a two mill tax would service a 15-year loan to complete the Justice Center.

The $12.49 million Justice Center was initially slated to be open last summer. The county initially obtained a general obligation bond that they thought would pay for the entire project.

“We took a big hit when we lost our casino revenue,” said Newson.” We’ve also got to look at refunding our local entities that we stopped when we lost our casino revenue.”

The coronavirus shutdown prompted Coahoma County supervisors to cut all non-statutory required funding in April as they faced the loss of casino tax revenue. The casino in Lula contributes about $100,000 a month to county coffers. The casino was shut down by COVID-19 in mid-March.

Supervisors voted to cut the following dollar amounts on a monthly basis to the following agencies:

• $7,500.00 – Coahoma Economic Development Authority.

• $5,666.66 – North Delta Planning and Development.

• $4,604.17 – Region I Mental Health.

• $2,500.00 – CARES animal shelter

• $1,833.34 – Clarksdale/Coahoma Airport Board.

• $1,666.67 – Boys & Girls Club.

• $1,271.67 – Clarksdale Speech & Hearing.

• $1,250.00 – Coahoma Opportunities.

• $  833.33 – County Health Department.

• $  833.33 – Delta Council.

• $  666.67 - Aaron Henry Community Health.

• $  416.67 – Spring Initiative.

• $  416.67 – Tri-County Workforce Alliance.

• $  333.33 – NW Miss. Museum.

• $  333.33 – Red Cross

• $    83.33 – National Guard.

These cuts totaled $30,208.17.

In other business:

Supervisors will meet with Merit Health CEO Steve Dobbs next month to discuss the next step for the hospital.

Merit Health manages Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center for CHS (Community Health Systems) and has announced plans to do major renovations at the hospital.

Changes to the lease requested by Dobbs are:

• Removing the glass solarium along the front of the hospital.

• Moving the Hicks Healthcare trailer off property behind the hospital.

• Giving the 3,000 square-foot nursing school back to the county.

• Giving 12.1 acres of land on Ohio Avenue back to the county.

• Tear down and remove the Flowers Wing.

Merit is also asking for a reduction in its lease price from $500,000 to $425,000 per year.

Newson said Monday he would like to see the county’s revenue stream stabilize and Merit begin work on hospital renovations before changing the lease price.

“Again, we have made cuts because of the coronavirus and we need to watch our finances carefully,” said Newson. “We’ll be glad to look at it in the future.”

Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center saw its former owner Curae go bankrupt in 2019 and it was rebought by its previous owner CHS (Community Health Systems).

The county had a fund of approximately $30 million from the sale of the facility several years ago and that fund has dropped to roughly $26 million.

Language in the county’s Hospital Reserve fund says that money can only be spent on the hospital. The county took $3 million to meet payroll while the hospital was in bankruptcy.

The hospital basically shut its doors during the coronavirus outbreak and has not been doing elective surgery or taking walk-in patients unless it was an emergency. Elective surgery is one of the most lucrative segments of healthcare and the emergency room funnels walk-in patients to the clinics of local doctors for follow up care.

CHS bought Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center from Curae last summer and finalized their lease with Coahoma County Supervisors in January. A report from the county’s hospital consultant Trilogy proposed a new 50-bed micro hospital be built and estimates have the cost of that facility coming in at around $25 million.