Calculators, barricades come with stimulus

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 15, 2010

A year ago, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made “stimulus” a household word — and Vicksburg and Warren County officials plan to keep cashing in.

The $787 billion public works spending bill that broke all records was passed Feb. 13, 2009, and has had one very direct effect: Public schools got money to buy 650 graphing calculators for $95.64 each.

Vicksburg has also purchased 940 barricade segments with $67,680 in Justice Assistance Grant money. The barricades haven’t been used, but Mayor Paul Winfield says they will be.

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“I’m delighted Vicksburg has received a direct benefit. This is real dollars here,” Winfield said of the 940 barricades, ordered along with various other law enforcement equipment during the final weeks of the Leyens administration. “I would just like to take my hat off to (U.S. Rep.) Bennie Thompson,” Winfield added.

The barriers might have debuted during Saturday’s Mardi Gras parade down Washington Street, but a Friday snowstorm intervened. “We were planning on using them, but not with the weather and the amount of overtime it would cost,” Winfield said.

The balance of the city’s $265,607 in stimulus-derived JAG funds will go to a generator for the Vicksburg Police Department mobile command center, plus some radio equipment and laptop computers for the department, said Marcia Weaver, grant preparer in the city’s planning department. She said some money might also go to storage facilities, perhaps trailers, to hold the barricades.

Money to pay salaries and benefits to four new officers for three years also has arrived, Police Chief Walter Armstrong said. The total award is $508,364, with the city to take over once that grant expires. In-car computer systems and an extra patrol unit will head the sheriff’s department’s way as part of the county law enforcement arm’s share of JAG money.

Paving projects on Wisconsin Avenue and Clay Street should start in March, funded by $947,635 from the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s cut of highway money from the stimulus. Sections of Wisconsin from Interstate 20 to Bazinsky Road will be smoother, as well as Clay between Cherry Street and Mission 66.  Replacement of two main sewer lines with part of an $8 million funding stream from the stimulus depends on environmental reviews.

The closed bridge at Washington and Clark streets didn’t make it to the city’s wish list, as a $5 million set-aside by the city in 2006-07 to pay for a road-topped rail overpass to replace the bridge has fallen short of an $8.6 million construction bid to build it. Options to bridge the funding gap must either come from Congress in the form of an earmark or from the state if MDOT can be persuaded to put the bridge back on a list of funding-eligible bridges.

Another big-ticket local project — a new county jail — was also not identified for stimulus funding.

Otherwise, money for a transportation museum on Depot Street is expected, as $250,000 in stimulus bucks has been announced for renovations expected to start this year.

Replacing roofs on 177 residential apartments and buildings at Waltersville Estates was set to begin this month, using $331,000 of the $888,000 the Vicksburg Housing Authority was given.

New buses and equipment for NRoute, the city’s public transit system, are also ordered.

In addition to the calculators, the Vicksburg Warren School District has a $4.6 million list of things to do.

Interactive whiteboards, or “SMART Boards,” could be purchases. The 49 souped-up projector screens, about $5,000 apiece, can access the Internet and should effectively replace the overhead projector in local classrooms, said Dr. Susan Bentley, director of federal programs and special education for the district.

Construction of a dozen new classrooms at Vicksburg Junior High School was to start this month, with new space at Warrenton Elementary to begin May 29, the day after the school year ends. Two grants for special ed, about $1 million each, should fund salaries in the program.

Warren County moved quickly when the legislation was passed by Congress, submitting a $152 million dossier of items. However, awards of highway money went mostly to cities and not counties. No specific department exists in Warren County government for writing grants, further hamstringing attempts at wringing more money out of the stimulus.

That job has fallen to County Administrator John Smith, who reports progress on their lone stimulus-funded items — new light fixtures at the county-owned public library and HVAC systems at the Board of Supervisors’ Jackson Street building — to, where all agencies receiving stimulus money must submit progress reports to remain eligible.

“The lights will be the biggest thing public will see,” Smith said of the $212,800 in Department of Energy money to fund the upgrades. “It should save some energy dollars.”

Stimulus projects won’t be limited to local government in 2010. Structural renovations to the Shirley House at Vicksburg National Military Park should begin in March, Superintendent Mike Madell has said. Surveys have started for a bluff-stabilization effort at the national cemetery, funded with $173,287 in stimulus money from the National Park Service.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District received $220 million for flood control and various other efforts, among them dredging at the mouth of the Yazoo River near Vicksburg and at Madison Parish Port.

Up to $2.8 billion flowed to Mississippi from the stimulus package. More than $1.7 million in items covering 621 grant, loan and contract awards have been submitted in the state, according to the independent Of that, 15 public and private projects are listed in Vicksburg, totaling more than $5.8 million.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at