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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, January 11, 2008

Katrina funds for Jackson?

Coast opposes Barbour's pledge

published January 11, 2008

JACKSON --Gov. Haley Barbour has pledged $3.5 million in federal Hurricane Katrina relief money to help fight crime in Hinds County and Jackson.

But some say the money should go to South Mississippi, because it is intended for hurricane-damaged areas.
The money for the Jackson area would hire a judge, more prosecutors and other law enforcement.

But some prosecutors in South Mississippi are worried about losing attorneys and investigators they were able to hire with part of the same federal law enforcement grants after the storm.>

The money is part of $47 million in federal law enforcement money given to the state. Barbour said Thursday the state had the ability to disburse the law enforcement funds in the counties that make up the Gulf Opportunity Zone. He said the storm did serious damage from Columbus to points southward.

"We are allowing some of the counties that we did not allow to get any of the original monies," Barbour said. "There are 48 counties in the Gulf Opportunity Zone and most of them we did not allow to ask for law enforcement grants in the first round because the needs on the Coast were so great."

Barbour said governments couldn't get money for the same purpose twice under the program, but there is still about $3.5 million to be awarded. When asked if he thought the money was enough, Barbour said the state "never expected to get this."

But Rep. Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian, who had not heard about the grant to the city of Jackson, said Thursday that South Mississippi should get all of the money, which the governor controls, because the federal government gave it for Katrina recovery.

"If he has given $40 million, it is still not enough, and the money was allocated from the federal government for that purpose," Peranich said. "I would hope that any of the monies were given for law enforcement on the Coast would go to the Coast.

"We're very grateful for the support and help that we have gotten, but we are not whole."

Peranich said she hoped the remaining $3.5 million would be spent in South Mississippi. There are still many problems at the Harrison County jail, and many departments along the Coast need to replace their equipment, she said.

Rep. Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, said he had not heard about the grant for the Capitol area, but as it doesn't involve money from the Legislature, he has no control over it. He said a bill he supported would have given the Legislature oversight of federal Katrina money; it was killed in the Senate in a previous legislative session.

None interviewed for this story questioned whether Hinds County and Jackson needed more money for law enforcement. The $3.5 million grant gives the area the ability to hire a full-time circuit judge, two assistant district attorneys, one new public defender and more legal staff. The money would also fund investigations teams composed of law enforcement officers from several agencies.

Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence, a Republican, said his office is still dealing with higher caseloads than before the storm. In September, Lawrence will lose the extra prosecutors and other workers he was able to hire with the federal money. He said he was grateful for the funding and he understands the federal grant was not to be given twice for the same purpose.

He hopes the Legislature will provide money to help South Mississippi's law enforcement agencies; he said the Mississippi Prosecutors Association has drafted a bill to submit.

Lawrence said court dockets have swelled on the Coast now because of a spike in home-repair fraud cases, and drug-related arrests. There are whole new populations living in the area than before the storm, and they have brought more crime with them.

"The issue I have is not a federal grant issue, but a state issue," Lawrence said. "We got the federal grant, but now it is time for the Legislature to step up."

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© 2008 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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