a conversation with Virgi Lindsay on Jackson city council

Virgi Lindsay was recently named city council president. The Northsider and Belhaven resident was elected to her first term in 2017, after serving for years as executive director of the Greater Belhaven Foundation. She recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about her new role on the council and her involvement in city business.

The city is beginning budget talks now. What are your priorities for the 2020 budget?

“We need to continue to find resources to resolve the issues we have in water and sewer billing. We also need to prioritize street repairs, flooding issues, making improvements to parks, and, equal to all of that, find ways to provide better salaries to police officers and firefighters.

“We also have failing infrastructure beyond our streets, water and sewer. We need new fire stations and libraries. We must look for ways to address the city’s most critical needs, while also finding a way to address long-term issues.”

Jackson’s 2018 audit reports the city had a combined 729 police and firefighters. If the city gave each of those individuals a $5,000 raise, the total cost would be a little more than $3.6 million. That’s such a small amount compared to the overall budget. Can’t the city find those funds? 

“The council will be in budget hearings the rest of August and in early September. We’re looking forward to seeing what the administration presents regarding police and firefighter salaries.”

Years ago, the council found $3 million by making some budget cuts. That money was then used to leverage road bonds. Can the council do that again?

“We absolutely can do that, but in the short time I’ve been on the council there hasn’t been much air in the budget.”

You mentioned Jackson’s roads. Do you support Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s plans to use one-percent funds to leverage road repaving bonds?

“Yes; we need the money now. Our roads are in terrible condition. I’m grateful the commission is willing to work with the administration on this.”

Let’s talk about libraries. Are there any updates on the Charles Tisdale or Eudora Welty branches?

“The administration has several options in the works for the libraries. I expect them to bring a proposal before the council within the next four months.”

What options are out there?

“The options involve real estate proposals that are in negotiations, so I cannot offer details.”

Tisdale closed more than two years ago. Welty’s second floor has been closed for almost two years. Are you upset about this?

“I’ve put the library issue on the agenda several times for discussion. I am alarmed by the condition of our libraries. The community needs them and that’s true today more than in the past, as the function of libraries have changed. They provide computers and Internet for citizens who don’t have access to them at home. They’re not necessarily just about checking out the latest best sellers. Libraries are places for communities to gather, to fill out job applications, to research new places to live, to finish homework … libraries really are an integral part of our communities.”

The Jackson Zoological Park is a major issue for the city right now, too. The administration is currently in talks with a firm called ZoOceanarium. What do you know about them?

“I know what’s on the website. We’re supposed to get more information from the administration in the next couple of weeks.”

I’ve looked at ZoOceanarium’s website and have even tried contacting them but have had no luck. Does the lack of knowledge about this group alarm you?

“It doesn’t alarm me, but I do find it concerning. That’s why I’m anxious to get more details on them. Right now, we don’t know what the administration is going to propose. I’m interested in seeing their proposal.”

The council recently gave the zoo a $200,000 allocation to help keep its doors open. Why?

“That was stopgap money. We had no choice but to allocate it. The zoo is not a retail shop. You can’t just close a zoo. We have a responsibility to pay for the care of the animals, and that includes zookeepers’ salaries.”

I recently wrote a story about the zoo’s declining attendance. This year, attendance is lower than it was last year, and in 2018, it was lower than the year before. Is the zoo dead?

“It’s been a very difficult year for the zoo. Part of it is fueled by the negative publicity. Part of it is the bad weather. We’ve had lots of rain. It rained through spring break. There were lots of Fridays where it rained and field trips were cancelled. With the uncertainty about the zoo’s future, donations and contributions have dried up. It will interesting to see what ZoOceanarium is proposing, because the zoo truly is in crisis.”

Do you think new management can save the zoo?

“That’s what I believe they will propose. I will read carefully for how they propose to do that.”

Flooding remains a problem in Belhaven…

“It is not just a problem in Belhaven. There are flash flooding and drainage issues throughout the city – Belhaven, Fondren, the Northside along White Oak Creek, Midtown – there are certainly many neighborhoods that have flood issues.”

The Belhaven Creek project is going to cost $2 million alone. With the high cost of that work, is the city looking for resources outside of the one-percent funds to address the problems?

“The $2 million does not fix Belhaven Creek. It is for the first step in phase one, which is putting a larger culvert under the St. Mary bridge. We are looking at every possible revenue stream to help us deal with these issues.”

Finally, I want to ask you about a vote taken by the council on August 6. The council approved incorporating property around the airport. Can you tell me about that?

“It’s a matter that’s in litigation and I cannot comment.”