A Spendin' They Will Go | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Spendin' They Will Go

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On Feb. 28, four Jackson City Council members voted 4-3 to allow the city of Jackson to pay for the relocation of about 21 families left in the near squalor of the apartments formerly known as Maplewood Apartments.

Ward 1 Councilmen Ben Allen of Ward 1, Kenneth Stokes of Ward 3, Frank Bluntson of Ward 4 and Charles Tillman of Ward 5 joined forces to approve the $20,000 from the city general fund to pay for the relocations, which may involve temporary hotel stays, say city officials.

Mayor Frank Melton said he hopes for Community Block Grant money and other grant money to reimburse the general fund.

"Over the weekend I had some documents submitted," Melton told the Jackson Free Press. "We have $52 million in grants to the city of Jackson. Not just community block grants but all our grants. We have to start spending that money to help people… and we're just going to have to step it up to help people."

Soon after becoming mayor, Melton began a busy campaign to close down the apartments with its many dilapidated units and safety-code violations. For weeks, Melton and city employees, along with friends and associates, have been dipping into their own pockets to pay for the relocation of families living in the embattled apartments, he said.

"We went as far as we could personally and with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. They've all been very helpful, but when the staff and me are coming up with (moving cost money) out of our personal pockets, this is the right thing to do," Melton said. "Now we've limited it down to, I think, 21 families, and they're the most destitute because they have no place else to go, but I've been given the authority today to do what's right."

Allen voted along with Stokes, Tillman and Bluntson to approve the funding only after the assurance that the money would be repaid from grant money. He said he was moved by the fact that the owner, Andrew Moore, of Hattiesburg, had appeared to have collected water fees from residents without paying the city for its water services; the city attorney reported that the complex owner might owe $44,000 in water services to the city.

Melton said the owner may also face some criminal charges.

"I can't disclose (possible charges) publicly, but we're working with HUD and the FBI right now and the possibilities of criminal charges will be filed under fraud," the mayor said.

Moore or his attorney could not be reached, and the Jackson Free Press could not determine by press time whether the city is, in fact, working with HUD and the FBI to bring criminal charges against Moore.

Council President Marshand Crisler, who was not present for the vote, along with Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett Simon, said he had reservations about tapping into the city's general fund due to uncertainty about the budget.

"We're moving monies around that I don't even know we have," Crisler said. "What we're doing now wasn't covered in the original budget, so there was no line-item capture for this type of expenditure. Money is going to have to come out of the budget right now until they can get this proposed future block grant money, which nobody has promised us."

Crisler said the city is also setting a disturbing precedent.

"If we spend money to move these residents from Point A to Point B, if residents in the future have similar needs, will we then move them as well, and when does it stop, and how much money do we really have to do this? You can call me the bad guy all day long, but my job as a policy maker and keeper of the purse is to make good fiscal decisions, and I don't think this was a good fiscal decision," Crisler said.

Previous Comments

ID
65381
Comment

Because we are showing 52 million in grants does not mean that we can use this money to fill in some holes in the budget. grants are usually very specific as to what they may be used for. Another question I have is, how long before we actually get this money? I don't think that it's a good idea to put the chicken before the egg. One day the mayor complains about the possibility of the city being in the red, and the next day he comes back and says how much money we have to utilize. If we have access to so many grants, would it have not been a good idea to secure these monies BEFORE we made all of these radical moves? This man has mastered producing document, warrants, homestead exemption papers, grants, ant etc whenever he wants to support his causes. Hey Frank, can you get us a grant to get us out of dept?

Author
lance
Date
2006-03-02T07:49:04-06:00
ID
65382
Comment

The vote was 4-0 , not 4-3. This WAS a good fiscal decision....amazes me, such a strong comment from a Council member that WASN'T EVEN THERE. This is a simple process....Individuals paid OUT OF THEIR own pocket, money to assist in relocating uprooted citizens. The City is repaying these benevolent people with general fund money, until a federal Grant, whose sole purpose is THIS exact type thing re-imburses the benevolent people. Making this look "irresponsible" is pining for the press and playing politics of division (ie: boy is he running hard) Sheesh! The vast majority of these people are " financially challenged" (poor ). "Relocation programs" exist for theses purpose, but it takes a while to get the funds to the people (can you spell FEMA). My God, when we get criticized for an issue like this........get a life!

Author
Ben Allen
Date
2006-03-02T08:10:45-06:00
ID
65383
Comment

I think the 4-3 was my fault. I made that assumption in editing and added it at the last minute at the top. So the point is that the other three did not vote? I'm not sure this issue is simple, Ben. I'm all about helping people move into better housing, too -- with a plan that will help anyone who needs it, and not just places that Mr. Melton obsessed about and jumped the gun over. Could you tell us exactly what grant is paying this back, and when? I assume, as a fiscal conservative, you would not have supported this had you not known all the specifics. No one is making this look irresponsible but the people doing it. Mr. Melton did this thing without a plan for paying for the relocation of these people, the budget is in the toilet under his leadership, and now he is asking Council to reimburse people!?! Come on.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-03-02T11:19:29-06:00
ID
65384
Comment

I will fax you a copy of the "Order" later today. See above. Period.

Author
Ben Allen
Date
2006-03-02T11:33:48-06:00
ID
65385
Comment

Please do. I want to see the accountability on these expenditures. And I want to see the mayor/city's plan for relocating people and paying for them after they're evicted. This seat-of-the-pants crap that the mayor is doing after the fact is fiscally irresponsible.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-03-02T14:31:09-06:00
ID
65386
Comment

It is on the way...just faxed. A real (to me) no-brainer.

Author
Ben Allen
Date
2006-03-02T14:53:02-06:00
ID
65387
Comment

Hey, my mind is open. Convince me. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-03-02T14:59:29-06:00
ID
65388
Comment

“We went as far as we could personally and with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. They’ve all been very helpful, but when the staff and me are coming up with (moving cost money) out of our personal pockets, this is the right thing to do,” Melton said. “Now we’ve limited it down to, I think, 21 families, and they’re the most destitute because they have no place else to go, but I’ve been given the authority today to do what’s right.” Was anyone aware of the effort to fund this project with donations or private funds before the mayor rode into the Maple Street apartment complex like the Justice League of America? I truly believe that if this were brought to the citizens during the planning stages (if there were any) then I believe that there would have been a pouring in of help from Jackson residents. We have always very giving to help anyone when we was asked for regardless of of it is local or abroad. I believe that councilman Crisler raised a good question when he asked “If we spend money to move these residents from Point A to Point B, if residents in the future have similar needs, will we then move them as well, and when does it stop, and how much money do we really have to do this? Just where do we draw the line or establish guidelines for this type of assistance. We already have numerous vacant and dilapidated building and houses all over the city. Could the city look into restoring some of these houses and businesses for residential placement and economic growth (I know Habitat for Humanity is doing all that they can do) and try to kill two birds with one stone? Why not hold a town meeting, or form a committee that will sincerely research this issue and offer some soultions that will not get bogged down in red tape.

Author
lance
Date
2006-03-03T08:14:22-06:00

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