State Sen. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, said the future of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center will remain in limbo until sometime in late March.

Carmichael said disagreements between the House and Senate as in years past may bury a bond bill that could provide significant state funding for the proposed $55 million project, which would be built in the woods surrounding Bonita Lakes.

"I feel if we do have some bonds, we might have about $4 million for that project," Carmichael said.

Carmichael said money for projects like the Arts and Entertainment Center may not be available this year because the state has to come up with substantial funds to match federal aid for Hurricane Katrina relief.

He said he has not heard any new discussions about the entertainment center, only that author and television host Paul Ott's poem may be used as a marketing tool to raise money for the center. State legislators are currently considering whether to make Ott's poem I am Mississippi an official state symbol.

Ott gave the rights to the poem to the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center in hopes that it could be used to raise money.

The project is to be funded with federal, state and private monies.

Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith said the city hired lobbyist Beth Clay for a second year to help represent the city's interests in Jackson, including working to secure funds for the center. Clay is being paid $2,500 a month plus expenses.

Smith said Clay has been successful in getting legislation passed that allows Meridian to give reverse impact fees to developers of local residential subdivisions, and she was successful in having punitive language removed from a bill concerning possible future annexation as it relates to a sewer line that runs from the city to Naval Air Station Meridian.

This year, Smith said, Clay is focusing on local and private legislation that would spur business development in Lauderdale County and other issues that affect all municipalities. Other cities, such as Jackson, hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the Legislature.

State Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, said the Legislature continues to look for every source of available funding for the arts center. But he said Hurricane Katrina has created too much financial uncertainty to make any promises about state funding for the project this year.

"We will eventually fund the state's share, and that share is what the state determines it to be," Burton said. "The local community has done its part by providing the land and the work that has been done at the site; now it is up to a unique blend of federal, state, foundation and private funding."

City officials have said they will await a funding commitment from the state before pressing ahead with plans for a referendum on a local food-and-beverage tax to support the facility.

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