Jackson City Council member Ashby Foote of Ward 1 asked for a list of all facilities the city of Jackson is responsible for maintaining and the one he received surprised him.
The 16-page inventory document lists more than 1.9 million square feet ranging from City Hall to concession stands.
“I knew we had a lot,” said Foote, commending the thoroughness of the inventory.
Foote wanted to know how many facilities the city owns — more than 510, counting storage sheds, dugouts and press boxes — because he’s concerned it does not provide enough funding to properly maintain them.
The city budgets $3.141 million for facilities, which includes about $900,000 in wages and $100,000 in benefits.
The budget for maintaining facilities is $300,225, but that’s not enough money to do the work that should be done, Foote said, who estimates “several million dollars more” is needed annually.
As the council begins the budgeting process for the next fiscal year, Foote wants to ensure more funds are available to maintain the buildings the city owns.
“I’m going to make it a big issue for budget hearings,” said Foote, vice chair of the council’s budget committee. “I think it’s imperative for us to fund the facilities we have in a meaningful way.”
The city’s inventory of buildings to maintain includes Thalia Mara Hall, the Arts Center of Mississippi, the Russell C. Davis Planetarium, the Jackson Municipal Art Gallery, the Jackson Zoo, Smith Robert Museum and Cultural Center, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Dizzy Dean Museum, Parham Bridges Tennis Center, Smith-Wills Stadium and Union Station.
The Jackson Police Department Headquarters and the Municipal Court building, the police training academy, four police precincts, the pistol range and other facilities plus the Jackson Fire Department Headquarters, the fire training center and stations spread throughout the city also have to be maintained.
Also requiring maintenance are childhood development centers, communications towers, fire stations, golf courses, libraries, parks, senior citizens centers, swimming pools and water towers plus the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, the J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plant, the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Trahon Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Presidential Hills Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Without question, the city does not have a large enough budget to adequately maintain all of its facilities, said Ward 7 council member Virgi Lindsay.
“This has been an issue for many years,” said Lindsay, president of the council. “We probably own too many properties and a careful analysis of what we need to get off our inventory is being done by public works.”
It takes time to analyze what buildings the city could dispose of and some such as City Hall have special conditions attached to them.
City Hall belongs to the Masons, Lindsay said, and the city of Jackson rents it for $1 a year in exchange for providing maintenance for the building that dates to the mid-1800s.
The city owns the buildings that house seven of the Jackson-Hinds Library System branches but three of them are closed because they need maintenance and another one, the Eudora Welty Library, is open but compromised, Foote said.
In addition to the Tisdale Library at 807 E. Northside Drive, the Richard Wright Library at 515 W. McDowell Road is closed because of plumbing and roof issues and the Fannie Lou Hamer Library, which is inside the Golden Key Senior Citizen Center at 3450 Albermarle Road, is closed while the center is being renovated.
By state statute, libraries must be owned by a city or county, not a library system. Municipalities are responsible for repairs, while day-to-day maintenance such as cleaning and unclogging toilets, is provided by the library system.
The Arts Center of Mississippi, 201 E. Pascagoula St., is home to local arts organizations that include Ballet Mississippi, Opera Mississippi, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Greater Jackson Arts Council, and it has had air conditioning issues this summer, Foote said.
The issue with the Arts Center has been getting parts to make repairs, said Drew Ridinger, facilities manager for the city of Jackson who is working with several businesses to get the job done.
When the air conditioning system at the Warren G. Hood Building, 200 S. President St., went on the blink, it too, faced issues with getting the parts. “We had a 17-week lead time to replace the chiller at the Hood Building,” Ridinger said.
Ridinger said the maintenance budget has about $60,000 left until the end of the fiscal year.
Foote would like buildings no longer in use put up for sale just as the city auctions off vehicles it no longer needs. The city’s vacant real estate includes space at Metrocenter once occupied Dillard’s Department Store, the building at 711 W. Capitol St. that once housed Atmos and the former Junior Achievement Building at 1695 High St.
“We need to look at ways to get buildings not used in private sector hands so they can take care of them and add value to the city,” he said.
Foote does not endorse Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s plan for the city to buy the former Batte Furniture & Interiors location at 1010 E. Northside Drive and place the Tisdale Library, which is closed, there as well as relocate Precinct 4 there and possibly additional city offices.
“We should sell three buildings for every building we buy,” he said.
Lumumba has mentioned equipping city-owned buildings with solar panels that would generate energy, but Foote opposes that idea.
“That’s another investment we would have to make,” he said. “We need to fix the buildings as they are right now before putting solar panels on them.”