Trying Again

By ANTHONY WARREN,

N’siders want ability to pay for neighborhood improvements

Northsiders are again asking the state for the ability to tax themselves to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

And again, they’re gearing up for a battle with the lieutenant governor, who for years has refused to let them do it.

The 2019 legislative session is still weeks away, but local leaders are already throwing their support behind legislation to create “community improvement districts,” or CIDs.

Under previous CID legislation, homeowner groups would be able to form special districts, and pay additional taxes for use specifically on neighborhood projects.

The funds could be used for most any public improvement, from installing security cameras to doing landscaping in public spaces.

“It would give neighborhoods a chance to organize as they wish and make improvements as they wish,” said Breck Hines, president of the Country Club of Jackson Homeowners Association. “I don’t see a downside to it.”

Local lawmakers have introduced CID legislation for four years straight, and each year, the measure has been killed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

District 25 Sen. Walter Michel’s attempt to revive the effort in 2018 failed, with his measure dying in the Senate Finance Committee.

Reeves doesn’t support CID legislation because he considers it a tax.

“The lieutenant governor personally knows people who are living on a fixed income and can’t afford to pay six more mills because they already live in one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions in Mississippi,” spokeswoman Laura Hipp previously told the Sun.

He suggested that “rich people” have the ability to support neighborhoods themselves, through contributions to their homeowners’ associations.

Hipp said since no bill has been introduced at press time, it would be premature to comment.

 

Northsiders, though, say the CID assessment is a tax they’re willing to pay if it means protecting property values and improving their overall qualities of life.

“(They) say people can’t afford it. What about the value of their homes being cut in half?” asked Eastover resident Leland Speed. “Sometimes, to protect your property values, you have to spend money.”

Sally Birdsall, executive director of the Massena Heights Homeowners Association, said the legislation could be used to help neighborhoods like hers install public access gates.

The association represents 82 property owners and was recently approved to install the gates at two of its major entrances.

The devices are seen as a way to calm traffic and reduce crime but can be a pricey endeavor.

Under Jackson city code, associations not only must pay for the installation and upkeep of the gates, but must maintain a $1 million liability policy to cover any damages that result from them.

“Everyone can benefit from this legislation,” Birdsall said. “It’s good for neighborhoods and organizations across the state who want it.”

Reed Hogan, president of the Belhaven Improvement Association, also sees the benefit. He said the funds raised through the creation of a CID could help pay for several projects in his neighborhood, including landscaping work at Fortification Street and I-55.

Hogan said not supporting the legislation in 2019 could have political ramifications for Reeves, who is running for governor.

“I would not vote for someone who I know is opposed to seeing this bill become a reality,” he said.

Stacey Jordan, executive director of the LeFleur East Foundation, said the foundation will again support the measure, adding that having a CID could help finance major foundation projects, including cleaning up sidewalks along Ridgewood Road and maintaining plantings at Exit 100.

In March, Jordan, Hogan, Birdsall and Hines were among 27 community leaders who signed on to a letter urging Reeves to support CID legislation. 

The letter was sent to Reeves in March, during the 2018 session.

Petitioners argued that the CIDs were needed, in part, to supplement city services, such as police protection.

“The city of Jackson has limited resources to address its ever-growing safety needs. Safety issues have increased while property values have declined,” the letter read.

Residents interviewed by the Sun hadn’t decided if they would send another letter to Reeves, and were still crafting strategies.

Said Jordan, “Nothing is set in stone yet.”

 

During the last session, Reeves double-referred the bill to the Local and Private Legislation and Senate Finance committees.

The measure passed local and private but was never brought up for a vote in finance, which is controlled by Reeves lackey Sen. Joey Fillingane.

Like Reeves, Fillingane wouldn’t support the measure because he considered it a tax.

For his part, Michel said he plans to introduce the legislation again next year, but still hadn’t decided on a plan of action.

Among options, he’s considering authoring a bill to amend the current state statute that allows for business improvement districts, or BIDs.

BIDs are similar to CIDs but are specifically designed for commercial areas.

“It may require a simple tweak to encapsulate what neighborhoods want to do,” Michel said. “That’s one route I’m looking at.”

Other ideas include introducing a CID bill that would apply to all municipalities in the state, in hopes that communities outside of Jackson would throw their support behind it.

The senator’s 2018 bill would have authorized CIDs in the capital city only.

“If other cities come on board, I don’t see why we wouldn’t support it,” said Robbie Brown, deputy director of the Mississippi Municipal League.

At press time, Michel had not gauged the interests of other cities. He had planned a meeting with the finance committee attorney to further discuss the issue.

The 2019 legislative session begins at 12 noon, on Tuesday, January 8.