UnitedBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Metro senators join forces to back special funding districts
The fight for community improvement districts (CIDs) began anew this week, with the start of the 2019 legislative session.
Five Jackson senators have co-authored legislation to create the districts. At press time, they were waiting for the bill to be referred to committee.
District 25 Sen. Walter Michel hopes that the unified front, plus the early introduction of the bill, will help compel Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to support it.
Last year, Reeves double-referred the bill to two Senate committees and instructed Sen. Joey Fillingane to kill the bill in Finance. (Fillingane chairs the finance committee and was appointed to the position by Reeves.)
The 2018 measure, SB 3045, was introduced late in the session, giving little time for supporters to work it through the system.
This year, the bill had been finalized the week before the session, ready to be referred to committee on the session’s first day, Tuesday, January 8.
The measure will likely again be double-referred, to Finance, as well as the Local and Private Committee.
Even so, Michel is optimistic about the bill’s chances.
“We’re getting about a three-week head start on last year,” he said. “It’s up to the lieutenant governor to refer it. It will probably take a while because several hundred (bills) have been drafted.”
Co-authors include Sens. David Blount, John Horhn, Hillman Frazier and Sollie Norwood. Blount authored the first CID legislation several years ago.
The measure also is backed by the Jackson City Council, which passed a resolution in support of CIDs late last year.
“If the city council has endorsed the bill, and the local leadership is OK with it, then I’m OK with it,” Horhn said.
Like last year’s bill, SB 3045, this year’s measure only would apply to the city of Jackson. However, Horhn and Blount say they are open to amending the bill to include other municipalities.
Under the measure, neighborhoods would be able to form special districts, tax themselves and use the funds to pay for improvements specifically in their areas.
The tax would be collected annually, along with homeowners’ property taxes, and could be used for anything from hiring private security to filling potholes and adding new signage.
Sally Birdsall, executive director of the Massena Heights Homeowners Association, said the legislation is especially important to Jackson older neighborhoods, many of which no longer have protective covenants.
Birdsall was one of nearly 30 community leaders who signed a letter of support of the CIDs last spring.
“We have protective covenants that allow us to collect homeowners assessments, which we use for security and special projects. But we’re surrounded by neighborhoods that do not have covenants or have covenants that expired,” she said.
Over the years, many homeowner groups on the Northside have attempted to re-establish protective covenants, with mixed results.
To re-establish the covenants, 100 percent of property owners in an affected area must sign on. If not, then only the residents who sign on in support are required to follow them.
Under CID provisions, only 60 percent of homeowners in an affected area would have to sign on to support. Still, the bill includes several safeguards, to ensure that only residents who want to participate in the districts are affected.
To begin with, groups wanting to form CIDs must petition the city for permission. From there, the district boundaries have to be drawn up, and 60 percent of homeowners in the affected area must sign on in support. Anyone who does not want to be part of the district can simply be drawn out.
The bill also would place a cap on how much the assessment could be, six mills, and spending would be limited to project spelled out in the CID’s charter. Districts also would be mandated to have an annual audit and submit that report to the city clerk.
Other safeguards include provisions on how long the tax could be in place, limiting it to just the time needed to complete specific projects.
Blount said those safeguards should encourage other senators to give the legislation a second look. “It’s going to take Republican and Democratic support,” he said.
Reeves, though, has historically opposed the bill because he considers it a tax.
CID legislation has been introduced four times and has been killed each time.
“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,” Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp told the Sun previously.
Jackson’s tax rate aside, Ashley Ogden said additional funds are needed to help neighborhoods address the issues that affect their everyday lives.
Ogden is president of the Sheffield Area Homeowners Association, which serves a neighborhood located east of Ridgewood Road.
He said the CID assessment would help the association address drainage and road issues the city doesn’t have the money to deal with, especially problems along Sheffield Drive.
He said the city and neighborhood has filled numerous potholes there, but the work is quickly undone during heavy storms.
“We need to get the CID so we can start on the core issues,” he said. “The city is really good about filling potholes but we’re at the point now where we need to mill and repave.”