Mayor Chokwe Lumumba at today's special meeting of the Jackson City Council 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, to be funded by rate increases on water and sewer services and a 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 is an aging sewer system, a consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency that calls for $400 million to be spent over the next 18 years, drainage issues and street repair needs that far outpace the budget allocated to fix them. Lumumba admits his new plan won't solve those problems either, but the first-term mayor assured the council and crowd of approximately 50 that his plan is "a step in that direction."
The budget increases a handful of departments by a small percentage, but, under the plan, Public Works would grow by a whopping $22 million to a total of $398 million.
So, how's the city going to pay for it?
If the budget is passed as-is, the average rate for water will increase from $15/mo. to around $21/mo. and the average rate for sewer will shoot from $14.50/mo. to just over $31/mo., according to the Lumumba. For people who can't afford that increase, the city will set aside a special fund - the Vulnerable Peoples Fund - that the mayor said will have $175,000 in it to help people with fixed income.
City Finance Department Spokesman Rick Hill said that increase will produce a little more than $30 million in additional revenue for the city. In addition, Lumumba said 5.53 mills that were never supposed to be allocated to Jackson Public Schools will account for an additional $6.4 million to balance the budget.
The city council has a couple of weeks to research and respond to the mayor's proposal, and a public hearing has been set for 6 p.m., Sept. 5, at City Hall for citizens to weigh in.