Jackson Maintains Staff and Taxes Despite Smaller Budget


Mayor Harvey Johnson urges residents to add their information to the CodeRED database.

Despite a $10 million smaller budget for the city's proposed 2011 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the city will not increase property taxes or lay off employees, but instead reduce some services and leave unfilled positions open.

Jackson City Council members ended a week of budget hearings yesterday, in which city department heads and Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. answered an array of questions concerning department expenses, programs and staff duties. The city's proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2011 is $256.1 million compared to $266.7 for 2010.

In the proposed budget, the city's public bus system, JATRAN, faces reduced routes and six unfilled driver positions. JATRAN's operating budget increased for 2011 from $4 million to $11 million, with $3.4 million in federal stimulus funds and $3 million from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Corinne Fox, director of planning and development, said that while the budget has increased, most of those funds go toward making city buses more accessible for the disabled. In March, the council approved an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to install wheelchair lifts and ramps on its fleet of JATRAN buses and hire a finance coordinator to make sure the city is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The agreement is the result of a 2008 suit, which Jackson resident Scott Crawford, the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities and Disability Rights Mississippi filed against Jackson for not abiding by the act.

Ward 2 Councilman Chowke Lumumba asked the mayor what the city was doing to make JATRAN more sustainable.

"We are generating ideas, and one of the things we did for this budgeting process was to present this charge and challenge to JATRAN to make sure that there was no increase in our contribution this year, but at the same time to look at the future to see what adjustments can be arranged with the existing ridership to bring about cost savings," Johnson said.

Johnson said the department expects a 7.5 percent savings in JATRAN's budget over the next two years.

"As we looked at the budget, a large portion had to do with personnel and benefits, by reducing the number of operators by six, we could reduce cost over the long run to get to that cost savings. As we make reductions in routes, that could be a way to increase ridership. ... Instead of the bus coming every 15 minutes, the bus may come every half hour."

Fox said the city is continuing to follow its comprehensive master plan, which the council approved in 2004.

"When the mayor was in office before, we did a comprehensive plan called Fabric," she told the council. "It was very extensive, thorough and a very comprehensive look at the city of Jackson. It involved citizens throughout the community who prepared goals and objectives, and were involved in the planning itself."

Johnson said that the city is pursuing expanding its medical industry as a long-term strategy.

"No one else in Mississippi can compete with us in terms of the health-care industry, and maybe in the Southeast " Johnson said. "We are focusing more of our efforts on developing relations with the health-care industry and trying to use that as an economic development tool."

On Sept. 9 at 6 p.m., the city council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget. After the meeting, council members will address proposed budgets for the Jackson Zoo, the city's library system and the Jackson Public Schools District. The council votes to adopt the budget Sept. 14.

9/07/10 Clarification: City spokesman Chris Mims said that the proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2011 is $10 million smaller that fiscal year 2010, but the city has reduced its budget deficit by saving $5.6 million from restructuring its bond debt, carrying $2.3 million from departmental savings and using $3.1 million from reserve funds.The term deficit implies that the city is spending more than it is taking in, which is not the case.


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