Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. told the Jackson City Council last night that he wants to move some city facilities into the currently under-used Metrocenter Mall located on Highway 80.
Johnson said he wants to move the city's water and sewer business offices and personnel department, as well as Precinct 2 and the city's Public Education & Government Television network to the 60,000 square-foot first floor of the former Belk department store.
The Jackson Police Department's Precinct 2, PEG and the city's personnel offices are currently located at the Atmos Building on West Capitol Street. Water and Sewer administration offices, meanwhile, have been leasing space at the Jackson Medical Mall for about 15 years.
"There'll be a lease for the Belk space," Johnson told the council. "We haven't finalized the amount, but it will cost less than what the city is paying now for lease space, combined with utility costs and the $3 million it will cost to renovate the Atmos Building."
Johnson said the city was currently spending about $140,000 a year on rent and utilities for city offices at Atmos and the Medical Mall.
City spokesman Chris Mims said the city has yet to work out a thorough cost analysis and propose a moving schedule. He said the mayor wanted to gauge the council's reaction before moving forward with the venture.
Council members offered no immediate reaction to the prospect last night, although several members, including Council President Frank Bluntson and Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman, have previously advocated bringing the largely unused Metrocenter back to life.
Johnson said the Atmos Building requires considerable renovation in order to handle the requirements of the city's television station, and that the inadequate facilities on Capitol Street are one of the main reasons PEG has not recently been in steady production.
Developer David Watkins, who purchased the old Belk space this year in a plan to revitalize both the mall and its immediate surroundings, earlier approached Jackson Public Schools with a proposal to move their offices into the same space.
Watkins said he pulled his proposal to JPS after the city began courting him for the space.
"It's a totally different plan," Watkins said. "We wanted to stimulate development at the Metrocenter, and we have had these conversations going on with the mayor for a number of months and concluded that it would be better for us to discontinue our project with the school system and focus on the city."
Johnson said the city succeeded in helping jumpstart the newly renovated Jackson Medical Mall by moving some government offices into the facility, and said the same tactic could prove equally successful at the Metrocenter.
Watkins agreed: "We felt it was a good move to do this with the city," he said. "As the mayor said, 15 years ago the city helped stimulate the Medical Mall by moving offices there, and I think it will have the same effect at Metrocenter."
Watkins was unable to provide a potential lease cost to the city.
No Cuts to JATRAN, Yet
The Jackson City Council Planning Committee failed to pass either of two proposals to cut or consolidate some JATRAN bus routes yesterday.
Johnson told the council in November that the city would have to come up with an extra $984,000 by January to fund pack pay and other costs to JATRAN bus drivers and mechanics as a result of an October arbitration decision between the city and Amalgamated Transit Union, the union for bus workers. Johnson said that in addition to this one-time payment of about $1 million, the city would also have to find $560,000 in annually recurring cost increases to fund raises for unionized bus workers.
The mayor proposed cutting several routes and laying off bus drivers to fund the cost increase; however, no member of the planning committee considered either of two proposals to cut routes. One proposal called for changing bus routes by eliminating 21 jobs, cutting Saturday service and slashing underused routes. A less draconian proposal only eliminated nine jobs, re-established Saturday routes and consolidated some routes instead of eliminating them altogether. Planning committee members include Ward 6 Councilman Tony Yarber, Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman, Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson and Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba.
"I just can't do it," Bluntson said, arguing that laying off city employees sent the wrong message at a bad economic time.
Neither of the planning committee members will have to contend with the issue of finding $1 million in one-time money and $500,000 in recurring costs over the next few years, however, leaving the Johnson administration finding the funds to shore up the incoming shortfall.
Lumumba suggested the city meet the shortfall by tapping its rainy-day fund, a collection of left-over cash the city scrounged over the years after calculating for end-of-budget-year savings. Many bonding agencies base the city's bond rate upon the amount of money that sits in the fund.
Johnson warned that the recurring nature of the $500,000 cost makes tapping the fund illogical.
Lumumba said he supported tapping the fund this year, but proposed untested suggestions to counter the $500,000 cost at a future date. He suggested expanding JATRAN routes to serve suburban commuters in Madison and Rankin County, and proposed that the city drum up new revenue by arranging a bus route to provide transport for Hinds Community College students going back and forth between the college's two campuses in Raymond and Utica.
When I worked for the city in 2007, we were told were would be in the old Atmos building in October of that year. Maybe Metrocenter can work out this time. In fact, I think this could be a bigger boon for Metro than just having JPS there.
- golden eagle