Jackson is bringing on a team of private consultants to help it draw up a long-range infrastructure master plan.
The first phase of the plan will be funded by the city’s one-percent infrastructure sales tax.
Last week, the one-percent oversight commission awarded the city $500,000, which will be used to help the department of public works outline plans for the first two years.
Public Works Director Bob Miller said his office was in discussions with the potential firms at press time.
“We’re in negotiations with two or three firms we hope to bring together and form a team, but there’s nothing firm at this point,” he said. “I hope to have it pulled together by the end of the month.”
No timeline was given for when the first phase would be completed.
Miller said the names of the firms won’t be made public until an agreement is reached.
The city has compiled numerous studies over the years, on almost all aspects of Jackson’s infrastructure. For instance, in 2013, Neel-Schaffer conducted an assessment of the city’s water system. Also that year, Stantec Consulting was brought on to do a surface analysis of all city streets. Results were released last year. And as part of the commission’s 2015 infrastructure master plan, Allen Engineering was brought on to conduct an assessment of the city’s drainage system.
Miller pulled out a photograph, showing the studies stacked one on top of another.
“We have between 11 and 12 inches’ worth of documents. And the problem is that each one of those is not integrated and not funded,” he said.
Initial work will include pulling together all of the city’s engineering studies and digitizing the information.
Using that data, the city will map out immediate infrastructure improvements for the next two years, and begin to map out needs for the following eight.
Jackson will also get a demonstration of how that data could be put into a Global Information System, which would allow officials to track needs and improvements in real time.
Commissioner Pete Perry supported the proposal, saying it will give the city a better picture of its infrastructure needs.
“There’s no way to plan what you’re doing and organize what you’re doing if you don’t have information about what you’ve got,” he said.
“When the sewer line was replaced by my office on North Street to figure out how it flowed, they went and found hand-written drawings from 1928 that showed where the line was and what all it was connected to.”
Once the data is digitized, Perry believes the city will be able to access information quicker, and therefore will be able to respond quicker to infrastructure emergencies.
Additionally, once the GIS system is set up, the city will be able to track problems in real time.
The first phase does not include the creation of a GIS system, but rather will give Jackson leaders a demonstration of how it would work.
Requests for the funds were approved unanimously.
Members present included Perry, Vice-Chair Duane O’Neill, Ted Duckworth, John Ditto, Michael Boerner, Carrie Johnson, Robert Blaine and Jonathan Lee.
Commission Chair Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Commissioner Beverly Hogan were absent.
Lee left the meeting, but said he would have voted against it.
“I was under the impression we would consider it during the next meeting,” he said. “There wasn’t ample time to discuss the item.”
Lee said he wouldn’t have supported the measure, in part, because the city still hasn’t provided an accounting of how one-percent funds have been spent to this point.
Johnson also told the commission she was worried about spending the money without knowing how much had been spent, but voted along with the board when the matter was put to a vote.
To date, the tax has generated approximately $56.8 million. As of April, $54.2 million had been obligated and $24.4 million had been paid out.
For about a year, commissioners have been seeking a project reconciliation, something Lee brought up before leaving the meeting.
“Considering we don’t have an accounting, I would not have voted for another dime to be approved.”
Miller told the commission he was still working to put the reconciliation together, but pointed out that he had faced numerous challenges since joining the city.
Since joining the city in October, the city has faced a number of public works crises, including having to repair more than 300 water main breaks in January as a result of sub-freezing temperatures. Also, Miller’s team has had to begin work righting the city’s water billing system. Last month, officials reported that more than 20,000 customers were not receiving regular water bills.
Perry said Miller has been working to get data to the commission.
And he’s not worried that more one-percent dollars are being spent on consulting, rather than work.
Said Perry: “We bring them on all the time.”