First in city

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Belhaven begins process of forming improvement district.

The coming weeks promise to be busy for the Greater Belhaven Foundation, (GBF) as leaders with the group ramp up efforts to form the Belhaven community improvement district, or CID.

A kick-off party was held recently to mark the ramp up, where neighborhood leaders discussed plans and began collecting signatures for the CID petition.

As of last week, about 100 of the 1,050 needed owners signed on, about 10 percent.

To garner more signatures, GBF will host several events throughout the Belhaven community, including the next one on Monday, October 28, at the Fairview Inn.

“We would love to have this done by December, but there are a lot of signatures to get and a lot of parcel owners to track down,” said GBF Executive Director Casey Creasey.

CIDs are special taxing districts allowed by state statute. Property owners within the districts pay a special assessment on top of their annual property taxes, which is then set aside to fund public improvements within the district.

The assessment, which can be up to six mills, is collected annually by the Hinds County Tax Collector, and then placed in escrow for use specifically by the district.

Legislation allowing CIDs was signed into law this year. The law took effect on July 1.

Many Northside neighborhoods have shown interest in forming the districts, but Belhaven has moved the quickest on efforts to get one in place.

The foundation held an informational meeting May 14, weeks after CID legislation was signed by the governor. And in September, the neighborhood submitted a draft petition to the Jackson City Clerk for approval.

 

Forming a CID is pretty labor intensive. Simply to be considered, 60 percent of home and property owners within a proposed area have to sign a petition in support.

For neighborhoods like Belhaven, that means collecting more than 1,000 signatures. For the larger LeFleur East area, that would mean getting about 3,000 parcel owners to sign on. With approximately 400 parcels, neighborhoods like Eastover would have a slightly less daunting task.

Individuals who own multiple properties can sign once for each parcel he or she owns.

The petition, along with documentation showing the proposed boundaries of the district, and a strategic showing how CID funds would be used, are submitted to city officials for consideration.

From there, the city verifies the signatures and determines the millage needed to implement the projects in the strategic plan. Once a proposed millage rate is hammered out, the city would call for an election.

Under state statute, the city has 90 days to set an election once the strategic plan is formally submitted. State law also mandates that the city advertise the election in the local newspaper once a week for three weeks prior to the election date.

All “qualified electors” within the proposed district boundaries would be able to vote, meaning that all individuals living in the district, whether they own property or not, would be allowed to cast ballots.

Ballots will be prepared by municipality and include the proposed additional millage for the district and a brief statement on the purpose of the district. Voters would choose between two options: “for the special improvement assessment district,” or “against the special improvement assessment district,” legislation states.

It was unclear if votes would be cast at local polling precincts, at Jackson City Hall or by mail. At press time, officials with the city clerk’s office had not determined that process.

For the CID to pass, 60 percent of voters would have to cast ballots in favor of the measure.

Once passed, the county would begin collecting the tax the following year. And the tax would be in place as long, and only as long, as it is needed to complete the work laid out in the strategic plan.

Revenues can be used to improve public areas, like parks, sidewalks and streets, and can be used to pay for security enhancements, such as the installation of surveillance cameras and the hiring off private patrol services.

Legislation does not allow for the tax to be extended.

The Belhaven CID would take in both the Belhaven and Greater Belhaven communities. The area would stretch from Woodrow Wilson Avenue in the north to High Street in the South. East to west, it would run from I-55 North to North State Street.

Approximately 2,000 homes are in the area. However, that does include the total number of eligible voters.

Greater Belhaven is seeking six mills, which would generate $206,000 a year, Creasey said.

Creasey said the strategic plan still must be finalized.

However, after speaking with homeowners, the foundation has decided that the largest portion of the funds would go toward hiring additional security.

Additional CID monies would go toward creating a master plan for the community and then implementing the first round of improvements.

Any security would be on top of the private security already provided,” she said.

“We have looked at hiring off-duty officers and private firms,” she said. “This would be an added level of protection that would could offer our residents.”

Leaders across the Northside had been pushing CID legislation for years.

Measures authorizing the districts were killed five times previously. Many blamed Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for preventing the bills from coming out of committee.

In March 2018, nearly 30 homeowners’ groups signed a letter imploring Reeves to support the measure.

The letter said the law was needed to help neighbors preserve their property values, stem urban flight and help homeowners’ groups tackle public projects the city couldn’t afford to take on. 

“The city of Jackson has limited resources to address its ever-growing needs,” the letter states.

Despite public pressure, in 2019, it was starting to look like Northsiders would have to wait yet another year to see CID legislation passed. Late in the session, no action had been taken on SB 2897, the measure authored by District 25 Sen. Walter Michel.

However, in a surprise move, the House and Senate approved HB 1612, a measure penned by outgoing District 74 Rep. Mark Baker.

That bill was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 29. It went into effect on July 1.

“It’s good legislation and I’m glad we got it passed,” Baker said.

Baker, a former municipal attorney for the city of Brandon, said it gives homeowners’ groups another tool that can be used to improve their communities and the city as a whole.

He said the legislation gives neighborhoods opportunities to make improvements, while at the same time includes enough protections, such as the requirement of a strategic plan, to ensure CIDs are not abused. 

He believes if the districts are a success in Jackson, they could eventually be expanded to other cities and towns across the state.

“With people using it, we’ll see where the bugs are,” he said. “This is the laboratory. So goes Jackson, so goes the metro area. So goes Jackson, so goes the state.” 

Belhaven is offering several opportunities to sign the CID petition: 

-Monday, October 28, 5:30 to 7 p.m., BIA Neighbor Night, the Fairview Inn;

-Thursday, October 21, 6 to 8 p.m., Belhaven Boo, Belvoir Circle;

-Saturday, November 2, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Puppets in the Park, Belhaven Park;

-Tuesday, November 12, 6 to 8 p.m., Being Belhaven Annual Party.

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