Lean ForecastBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Collection shortfalls challenge city officials with budget issues
Jackson could have a draft budget next week, but even before that plan is released, city officials expect 2018 to be a lean year.
Among challenges, Jackson is experiencing revenue shortfalls in sales tax collections, water and sewer billing collections. Fees from parks and recreation are also down.
Shortfalls come as the new administration plans to make good on its promise to end employee furloughs.
Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote, Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester and new Mayor Chokwe Lumumba all have ideas on how to address the city’s budget shortfall, ranging from reorganizing departments to looking for more opportunities for public-private partnerships.
All agree that the furloughs need to be brought to an end, something Lumumba vowed to do during his campaign.
“I believe we can locate the funds to pay the city’s workforce fully for their hard and dedicated service,” he said.
Furloughs were implemented in late 2015 to help offset a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
The move meant that all full-time employees would lose one day of pay each month.
Savings from the program amounted to between $1.6 million and $2 million, Foote said.
“It spreads the pain, but it doesn’t gain anything,” he said.
Finding the money to end the furloughs could be a challenge.
Last week, Priester, the council’s vice president, wrote on social media that the numbers were “pretty rough.”
“Sales taxes are trending lower than expected, to the tune of $2.5 million. There’s also a problem with parks and recreation. Revenue (for that department) is much lower,” he said.
Park figures weren’t readily available at press time. The department’s operations are funded by an annual two-mill allocation, as well as fees paid by residents for use of park services. Any additional funds needed for the department come from the general fund budget.
Priester and Foote also pointed out shortfalls in water and sewer billing collections. Through the third quarter, the city brought in about $8 million less than projected, and is on target to collect only 85 percent of its billed water/sewer charges on the year.
Water and sewer funds are especially important as the city grapples with how it will pay for some $400 million in federally mandated sewer upgrades.
Jackson entered into a federal consent decree in 2012. As part of the decree, the city will have to make at least $400 million in repairs to bring its system in compliance with federal clean water laws.
Among ways to address the shortfalls, Foote would like the city to consider more public-private partnerships and see water/sewer billing reorganized.
In April, the council signed off on a contract with the National Urban League and the Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity, who will maintain the Grove Park Municipal Golf Course and keep it open for at least the next decade.
As for water/sewer billing, he believes the division should be made into a separate department, not under the jurisdiction of public works.
Having a separate director would take pressure off of public works and make the department more accountable to the mayor and city council, he said.
Right now, the water and sewer manager answers to the director of public works.
Priester agrees some departments could be restructured to save money. For instance, both public works and parks and recreation maintain rights-of-way. He believes one department, not two, could handle the work.
“There are going to be some challenges in the next couple of months,” Priester said. “But with deft management in areas like parks and recreation, public works and water billing, Jackson can turn a corner.”