UPDATED: Lumumba, City Council Quietly Raise Property Taxes to Fill Budget Holes | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

UPDATED: Lumumba, City Council Quietly Raise Property Taxes to Fill Budget Holes

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the city council late last week that the millage increase was a necessary but reluctant step to plug Jackson’s budget holes.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the city council late last week that the millage increase was a necessary but reluctant step to plug Jackson’s budget holes. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— Late last week, the Jackson City Council approved a 2-millage tax increase in a close 3-2 vote, with two city council members not attending the last-minute Friday-evening meeting. The City had announced the pre-Labor Day meeting to media in a faxed alert late the day before.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the five members present that the millage increase was the best of a "buffet" of options his administration considered to plug budget holes.

"The reality is that we have at the very least, conservatively, about a $6 million hole," Lumumba said Friday, video of the meeting shows.

He said the City has lost $3 million in revenue and continued to make a series of unsustainable cuts. While his administration could have cut departments—like early childhood education—they did not want to go in that direction, the mayor told the chamber.

"Continuing to increase millage is a process of diminishing returns, ultimately," Lumumba told the council and some Jacksonians present for the meeting. "... We don't do it lightly, but we do it after much deliberation and information about where the state is."

Charles Hatcher, Jackson's new director of finance and administration, told the Jackson Free Press Wednesday that the city faces about a $2.6-million budget hole, not a $6-million hole. The 2-millage increase equals about $20 more a year on a home with a market value of $100,000, the City said in a statement.

Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, attended the meeting and expressed concerns that as a Realtor, it is already difficult to sell houses in Jackson due to other taxes.

Lumumba reiterated that the tax increase will help the City fill budget holes and execute services better.

"People have seen the impact of the cuts we've made over time and what has been provided to them in their government, so this is our opportunity to change course," he said at the meeting. "... (W)e feel that this is necessary, a reluctant step, but a necessary step to do so."

Council Vice President Melvin Priester Jr. of Ward 2 said council members had spent the last several weeks meeting with department heads and with one another, explaining why other council members did not offer comments or thoughts on the vote.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman were absent for the vote Friday night. The tax increase passed by a vote of 3-2, with Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps voting no.

The 2-millage increase will be a part of the Lumumba administration's 2017-2018 budget proposal, which is not due until later this month. The tax increase will not affect property owners until next year.

"We hope this will be the last time in a long time that we ask for an increase in taxes," Lumumba said in a press statement sent late on Friday night. "We assure the City that we will be good steward of the money."

Clarification: This story is updated to reflect that the City has about a $2.6-million budget hole--not a $6-million hole as the mayor said at the Friday meeting. We have also clarified that the 2-mill increase will equal about $20 more per year in property taxes for a home with a market value of $100,000, not the assessed value. We apologize for the confusion. Donna Ladd and William H. Kelly III contributed reporting to this story. Comment at jfp.ms/news.

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