Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has spent much of his first 50 days in office in preparation for the afternoon of Aug. 19 at City Hall, where he presented his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 to the Jackson City Council.
After hearing his proposal, it's easy to see why.
The mayor put forth a $502.5 million budget proposal, which represents a 43.3 percent increase in spending over last year's budget of $350.8 million. He proposed funding much of that through rate increases on water and sewer services and the return of overfunding for Jackson Public Schools.
"This can has been kicked down the road for years," Lumumba said. "I don't see the point in kicking it any farther."
The "can" Lumumba referred to includes the city's aging sewer system, a consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency that calls for the city to spend $400 million over the next 17 years, drainage issues and street repair needs that far outpace the budget allocated to fix them. Lumumba admits his budget won't solve all those problems, either, but the first-term mayor assured the council and audience of approximately 50 that his plan is "a step in that direction."
Under the mayor's proposal, nearly all of the city's departments would receive a budget increase. The Department of Administration's budget would increase by $1.2 million over this year; Human and Cultural Services would increase $1.9 million; Planning and Development would get an additional $1 million; and $2 million more would be set aside for general government. The big-ticket item is the Department of Public Works' budget, which Lumumba hopes to increase more than $22 million—to a whopping $398 million. Public Works is in charge of fixing what ails Jackson: its potholes, sewers and drainage.
The hard part, of course, is how to fund an expansion of that proportion. Under Lumumba's proposal, water rates will rise from an average monthly bill of $15.54 to around $21, and the average sewer bill will increase from $14.50 to more than $31. That should generate more than $30 million.
Jackson Public Schools, which has recently refinanced its bond debt, doesn't need its full millage this year, the mayor claims. The 5.53 mills extra millage not required for JPS' debt service can better be used elsewhere for the coming year, he argues.
"Let me be clear about that," Lumumba said. "I don't want people to go around saying I'm taking money from JPS. There's a legal limit (on funds they can request from the city for operations), and we're at it."
Lumumba said those combined funds, plus around $5 million in combined cuts to the fire, police and constituent services budgets, will balance the 2014 Jackson budget—even with the increase.
"We had to make some tough decisions in this budget," Lumumba said. "But I was elected to put the city of Jackson first, and not to make decisions that are politically popular."