Friday, September 13, 2013
The Jackson City Council passed Mayor Chokwe Lumumba's controversial first budget with a 5-2 vote Thursday morning at City Hall, raising rates on water and sewer services across the city and drastically increasing funding for the public works department.
After weeks of deliberation, the vote went relatively smoothly, with just one amendment added. Councilman Tony Yarber, Ward 6, proposed that the city redirect $12,500 from a $100,000 fund that will pay for an audit of the city's departments. The city could use that amount to help fund Alignment Jackson, a nonprofit group aimed at facilitating community-wide collaboration in support of Jackson Public Schools.
The council adopted Yarber's amendment with the mayor's blessing. It then proceeded to pass the $502.5 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, leading to applause from the crowd that filled the council chambers.
Voting against approving the budget were Councilman Quentin Whitwell, Ward 1, who opposes what he perceives to be tax increases on the citizens of Jackson, and Councilwoman Larita Cooper-Stokes, Ward 3, who opposes the rate increases for water and sewer services.
Whitwell tried to break the approval process into three separate votes: one for the millage increase the council already passed last week; one for the rate increases on water and sewer services; and another for the balance of the budget. After the city attorney's office said that was not possible, Whitwell suggested that the budget be broken into two parts, the capitol budget and the operational budget, so the council could vote on them separately. His motion failed for lack of a second.
"This is something that we've avoided for such a long time," Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said. "We're trying to ease the pain as much as we can. I think it would be terribly irresponsible for us to not pass these rate increases, given what we know about the Environmental Protection Agency and the consent decree."
DeKeither Stamps, Ward 4, echoed Barrett-Simon.
"It's time for Jackson to stop buying what it wants and begging for what it needs," Stamps said. "We're going around begging for money to fix the things that we should do as a government, and I think it's time for us to stand up and take responsibility and start fixing stuff in Jackson."
Whitwell explained that his opposition wasn't an indictment against the mayor.
"Yes, we have kicked the can down the road, and yes, we have some major infrastructure issues we need to address," Whitwell said. "But we're talking about putting all this money into fixing a water system, and we aren't sure how many customers we have or will have in the future."