JACKSON, Miss.- “Is the risk that corporations will leave the state because taxes are too high, or is the risk that people will die because the Department of Safety’s budget was cut (for example)….” Lee Smithson, Executive Director of MEMA.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency saw a significant budget cut from legislators in the 2016 year. Asking for no less than $3.8 million to operate they were only given $3.2 million.
When lawmakers took a look at the MEMA they saw a number of jobs vacant, which is revenue not used. The amount totaled $262,000. Before they made the cut however, Smithson requested that he be allowed to fill the 13 vacant positions so that the funds would still be awarded to the agency.
Those particular state funds are matched by the Federal Government, so the loss is closer to half a million.
Smithson was granted approval as long as he could fill them by April 15th. Well he did it, and was assured that the money would be in MEMA’s budget for the year. The agency was dismayed to find out lawmakers had in fact cut the funds they had promised and only awarded them $3.2 million in operating costs.
“My position on it is, if you’re going to cut our budget then understand the second order effect of cutting our budget,” says Smithson. And that effect is poorer response to disasters across the state.
“Nobody’s going home, but if something happens and I’m not talking about another Hurricane Katrina, but even something like the Smithville tornado outbreak in 2011, I’m going to have to prioritize. I just don’t have the manpower to go out and service the needs of the community,” says Smithson.
Not only was the individual budget cut for agencies like MEMA, Mississippi Department of Health, and the Department of Safety, but the large tax cut implemented by Gov. Bryant will take its toll on corporations by losing inter-agencies fees that pay bills.
To work around the budget cuts MEMA is looking into grant options to keep things operating at a high level.