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Mayoral Candidates Weigh in on Roads

The Jackson City Council voted Monday to approve a proposal by Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. to inject $10 million into street repaving.

The Jackson City Council voted Monday to approve a proposal by Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. to inject $10 million into street repaving. Photo by Trip Burns.

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City Council President Tony Yarber called for a vote on the $10 million street resurfacing measure against the wishes of mayoral candidate and Ward 2 City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba.

The condition of city streets may be the hottest issue during the 2013 Jackson mayoral campaign. It has become a running joke among Jacksonians, but in reality, it's a huge problem with few answers.

But that could change. After voting down a $10 million bond issue to repave Jackson streets just a month ago, the Jackson City Council voted Monday to capitalize on low interest rates and borrow $10 million to $12 million to be repaid over 10 years. Work will be conducted in all seven wards and could start as early as this summer.

The measure passed 3-1, with the lone vote in opposition coming from Ward 2 Councilman and mayoral candidate Chokwe Lumumba. He asserted that he was more likely to vote for the bond this time around, but ultimately favored sending the motion back to the budget subcommittee.

"The thing that makes me feel a little bit different about this than the last time we broached it is the explanation of the interest rates and how they might change, so I think it's important to note that we should take advantage of those," Lumumba said. "On the other hand, my slogan is that the people must decide, and so what I'm trying to do is make sure that the people have a voice on this issue, because it is a question of putting the city into some additional debt on top of the $27 million, and I believe we already refinanced some of that, that the city already has."

Lumumba also pointed to the absence of three council members--Ward 3 Councilwoman LaRita Cooper-Stokes, Ward 4 Councilman and mayoral candidate Frank Bluntson, and Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman--as reason to shelve the issue until the next full council meeting. He noted that the four representatives in attendance were the minimum required for a vote, and that such a significant motion should not be voted on in a "special session."

But the session has been on the calendar since before the new year, and City Council President Tony Yarber called the vote.

"Councilman Lumumba, typically I would agree with you on that," Yarber answered. "The reason I do not, at this point, is that we've had issues getting folks to come to work over the past three months, and I'm not so sure we should be bidding to people who don't come to work, and hoping they come to work next time. You come to work, and I come to work, and we're going to vote on this today."

The city will pay off the bond over a 10-year period with money allocated to normal street resurfacing. Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell expressed concern over diverting all of the city's funds for street repairs to repaying that debt. Johnson assured the council that money would be diverted from other areas to refill those resurfacing funds so that work can continue over the next decade.

Jackson has spent $26 million to pave 87.3 miles of streets since 2009. That's enough to cover roughly 7.5 percent of the nearly 1,200 miles of streets Johnson says lie within the city limits.

Johnson held a teleconference town-hall meeting last week, and in a poll of the more than 3,500 participants, roads rated as the top concern, just ahead of crime. Johnson seized the opportunity to tout his record on reconstruction and paving, and he talked about future, planned projects. The mayor said the city has $25 million reserved for reconstruction of major thoroughfares.

"Everyone sees the project on Fortification (Street) going on, but we are also going to be on West Street between Adelle and Woodrow Wilson," Johnson said. "We're going to extend the Jesse Mosely Drive down on Bloom Street between Farish Street. We're going to work on Lynch Street from Wiggins Road to Ellis Avenue. We're going to extend on West County Line Road from the entrance to Tougaloo all the way down to North Field. We have a lot of reconstruction projects going on."

The proposal the city council voted down in February would have allotted the city $10 million for street repairs in February. The lack of oversight and a list of streets targeted were among council concerns. Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson said he was concerned the proposal allowed funds to go beyond streets and sidewalks, and Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell said the annual millage would have to go toward repaying the bonds for the next 10 years if the proposal passed. That, he said, would take away all of the council's power over street projects.

"(A bond) is not the best way to pay for street repairs, but our streets are in such a condition that we need a big injection of cash," Johnson said last week. "... What I was proposing is work on three or four major thoroughfares in the city of Jackson, like State Street between Shepherd and Northside Drive, or Northside between State and (Interstate 55) or Capitol (Street) between Rose and Crandit. ... That's what I was proposing, but that was rejected.

"I still want to do that. We need to do something about streets right now. I am prepared to do it, but I really need some cooperation from the city council to do it."

Johnson got that cooperation Monday.

The paving projects in the bond measure include work on high-traffic areas on Mill Street, Jefferson Street, Mayes Street, Ellis Avenue, McDowell Road, Capitol Street, Clinton Boulevard, Robinson Road, Lynch Street, Northside Drive, State Street, Watkins Drive, Flag Chapel Drive, Meadowbrook Road and Ridgewood Road. The mayor also plans to repave 28 other streets as part of the regular Residential Resurfacing Program by the first week of April.

It's a lofty goal, and some are greeting the timing--just a few months before municipal elections--with suspicion.

"It's too little, too late," Democratic mayoral challenger Jonathan Lee said Tuesday. "The mayor has been saying for four years that the bond issue is not the best way to pay for fixing the roads, so why now is he saying we need to do it?"

Lee insisted his stance against the bond is not a vote against roads, but against massive spending to fix a problem that, in his eyes, should have never been such an issue in the first place. "We want to create a measure that makes paving streets a more disciplined activity. We have to prioritize streets, so what we plan to do is move the roads budget out of the general fund and put it into a protected special fund. That gives us the discipline to keep our hands off of it. This is nothing new.

"You should be able to go online and click on your street and see when is the last time it was repaved and when is it due for repaving."

Attorney Regina Quinn, another mayoral candidate, issued a release Tuesday in response to the city council's Monday vote.

"The citizens are tired of Harvey Johnson's election-man plans." Quinn wrote. "I was pleased when the council originally said no to his reactive political plan to levy a $10 million bond for paving roads just to bolster his re-election bid.

"... His timing seems very politically convenient, and he is using long-term debt for a short-term fix."

Quinn called Johnson's paving record "significantly misleading," writing that Johnson was not the force behind many projects.

Not so, Johnson's Campaign Communications Director Melissa Faith Payne said. She said that Johnson first proposed the bond in August, and she cited low interest rates as the reason for Monday's proposal.

"The mayor has had a repaving program for years," Payne said. "None of this is brand new. He's always put aside money to repave streets, and his record stands for itself. ... The mayor has his duty to answer to the citizens, and they have told him they want him to fix the streets. That's what he's doing."

Comment at www.jfp.ms. Email Tyler Cleveland at tyler@jacksonfreepress.com.

Comments

sarahmina 6 years, 5 months ago

The mayor and JFP, and Donnalad (fact checker), must think Jackson's citizens are either blind or stupid to believe the level of street work going on today has been going on all along and it just so happens that it became "visible" a month or so before the election. Jacksonians have been yelling for "YEARS" (surely the 6 years I've been in Jackson) about the streets and the poor infrastructure. Do you REALLY want to talk about Farish STreet?????? If the mayor wants to blame the delay on the city council, it just shows a further lack of leadership on his part. I voted for Mayor Johnson in the last election based on what he promised to do - now he is promising again. Not this time!

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donnaladd 6 years, 5 months ago

Sarahmina, please don't quote me out of context. I didn't say that roads have been repaved "all along." I said there has been repaving before now during this administration -- as a factual correction to a lot of unfactual statements made.

You must understand that the pipes underneath the roads are a huge problem -- and paying to replace them. We had many roads paved in 2009 that had to be ripped up due to those issues. I'm nervous about spending all this money for repaving without fixing the infrastructure adequately. And I'm nervous that all the whining about repaving might get the mayor to go ahead and spend money before he should on repaving streets. This isn't about me defending him; it's about me wanting you and others to get the dang facts straight and not spread lies.

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Knowledge06 6 years, 5 months ago

Sarahmina, you obviously don't live in the City of Jackson. I live in South Jackson and although there are additional streets that need paving, Terry Road and Elton Rd specifically were paved within the last three years. Terry Rd was a substantial paving because it went from near Jackson State to near Byram. In addition, Forest Hill Rd was paved from Terry Rd to Cooper Rd and McCluer Rd from Terry Rd to Henderson Rd. These were just in the part of South Jackson I live in. I know other people can name streets that have been paved in the areas they live in within the last 3 years. You probably should get out more before you continue making uninformed comments!

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donnaladd 6 years, 5 months ago

The Regina Quinn campaign sent this response to Mayor Johnson's repaving strategy:

*"I see a Jackson with complete streets and a modern and effective water and wastewater system. In order to address our crumbling roads, and our water and wastewater issues, we must take advantage of the resources that are available to us. We must strengthen our federal, state, and local relationships, and use innovative approaches to pay for infrastructure improvements. I am not opposed to using bond financing and will look at our general funds to see what possibilities there are to better address our infrastructure needs. Bonds are often used for infrastructure and capital improvement projects; however, these tools have never been a panacea in that several of the last few administrations have all levied bonds to attempt to address our infrastructure problems. Nevertheless, in any case, we will pay for infrastructure by comprehensively and aggressively pursuing all options available to us."

"The citizens are tired of Harvey Johnson's ELECTION-man plans. I was pleased when the council originally said no to his reactive political plan to levy a $10M bond for paving roads just to bolster his re-election bid. Ultimately his gimmick passed, but I see only four members of the council were present to pass this election tactic by a vote of 3-1. Harvey's timing seems very politically convenient. Moreover, Johnson's paving record is significantly misleading. Several of the paving efforts that have occurred in the last 3 ½ years have been due to other individuals or entities stepping up to the plate and getting the job done, not due to any initiative of Johnson. "When this administration began in 2009, he was the beneficiary of a bond issuance of over $20M that was levied under the Melton administration. The MS Department of Transportation performed a paving project in West Jackson by saving ARRA funds (stimulus) that the City otherwise would have lost due to the city's mismanagement of the funds and inability to draw the funds down for implementation. Hinds County put over $1M into paving and median improvement efforts that were done on Highway 80. The roadwork done in South Jackson by the Timber Falls project was done by private developers who used improved paving methods to ensure more durability for those roads. We should use long term debt to finance durable investments. The current paving program simply lacks vision. There are many workable solutions, but its going to take an aggressive and innovative approach that capitalizes on relationships and better use of resources.

"If you really want to know about Johnson's re-paving record, ask the citizens of Jackson who drive these roads everyday how their cars are doing. We are convinced its time for a new direction."*

(This statement has not been factchecked; we welcome other candidate and citizen comments on roads and repaving under this thread.)

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