JACKSON, Miss. – It’s a problem decades in the making, but the money in the city of Jackson’s coffers is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what’s actually needed. As we told you last week, the extra One Percent Sales Tax has collected 12 million dollars, but it will take 700 million to fix all the roads and pipes in the city.
“I’ve seen better streets in developing countries than I’ve seen in the city of Jackson. State Street is very bad. North State Street is very bad. Part of Bailey Avenue is very bad, Northside Drive is horrendous.” State Senator Hillman Frazier is more than familiar with the rough patches of Northside Drive and State Street. These two important stretches lead you to Interstate 55 and to the doorsteps of power in state government and private business. Yet, all bills that could help fix Jackson roads and pipes this year were voted down. “It’s past a crisis, I think that we have not in the past worked very closely together to address the problem. It’s been neglected over the years. These water main breaks, these water boil notices highlight the problem of the past several months,” says Frazier.
Mayor Yarber recently met with Governor Bryant’s staff. They were open to lending a hand, but only for certain areas. “I’d be certainly open to talking to the Mississippi Legislature about helping support infrastructure in and around the Capitol Complex. That should be part of our responsibility. The mayor is doing a really good job and we’ll help him every way we can,” Bryant said in an interview back in March.
As for the rest of the city, Senator Frazier and other local lawmakers are scheduled to meet with the mayor in may to discuss state money.
Meanwhile, the mayor is trying to get federal dollars. “We’ve got the EPA who will be coming in may from Region IV in Atlanta. We’ve had standing conversations with them. We just left a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week. We’ve had a conference call with FEMA so we’re still working through all of the agencies that we possibly can.
There’s no big chunk of money out there to bridge the gap, but there are some little ones.
The Mississippi Department of Health just came through with a $2.5- million loan. A federal grant is going towards fixing 14 streets. The city has also applied for a couple million more through MEMA a $15-million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation. “What that will allow us to do, if we are successful in getting the tiger grant funds, is that it will allow us to use less of the sales tax money that we have planned for those projects and spend that money on other needs,” says city of Jackson, Public Works Director, Kishia Powell. “Grant funding is very limited and it’s highly competitive and we’re not going to be able to do everything with grants but that’s why we need to seek other sources of external funds, which we are doing,” adds Powell.
The Jackson City Council is growing weary. Councilman Kenneth Stokes believes he has one plan for quick funding.
“The emergency money is set up for situations like this. Now we’ll be able to put something back, but these citizens are demanding something be done,” says Stokes. The Ward 3 councilman suggests tapping into the city’s emergency reserve funds. “You’ve got money out here that you’re not spending and you’re asking other people for money,” adds Stokes.
“Standard practice, best practices for budgeting is that you don’t use your reserves until you absolutely need to,” explains Yarber.