The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation needs just three more signatures on its petition to establish a community improvement district, as of Nov. 25.
The foundation needs 1,045 signatures – 60 percent of taxable property owners in the proposed community improvement district – to present the petition to the city of Jackson, said Casey Creasey, executive director of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation.
Creasy said she is unsure when the last few signatures will be obtained, but she hopes to acquire them before the end of the year, if not sooner, so that project can move to the next phase early in the new year.
After the necessary signatures are secured, the foundation plans to spend two weeks ensuring everything is in order before presenting the petition to the city, Creasey said.
The city is required to verify signatures on the petition and that signors are property owners and then set a special election for a vote on the district. The city has 90 days to set a date for a special election about the district, allowing for a three-week public notice process. The district would have to win support from 60 percent of voters in the special election.
Volunteers have spent hours reaching out to friends and neighbors to ask them to sign the petition, Creasey said. Students from Millsaps College—many of them athletes in need of community service hours—have pitched in to canvass the neighborhood and go door to door to gain signatures from residents, she said.
The process of gaining signatures might have been easier when landlines were common in homes, she said, and the phone book would have been a useful resource.
The foundation began gathering signatures in October 2019 and expected to be done collecting signatures by spring break 2020, but the onset of COVID-19 slowed the process. “Everything being shut down put it on hold for a while,” Creasey said.
The city approved the use of DocuSign, a program that allows individuals to sign documents using an electronic signature, and that allowed the process to go forward, she said. “We can email people and don’t have to be in front of them,” Creasey said.
The use of DocuSign has been especially helpful in securing signatures from out-of-state property owners, she said.
“That helped us get it in front of them in a way that they can take a minute and look at it,” she said. “I’ve had several out-of-state property owners call and ask questions.”
While only taxable property owners can sign the petition, all registered voters in the district can participate in the special election, Creasey said. “Voters can be renters in Belhaven who see the need for the district,” she said.
Belhaven residents have expressed interest in forming a community improvement district because funds generated could be used for public safety and security measures, capital improvements and beautification, she said.
“Based on 2018 land rolls and tax assessment, we’re looking at $206,000 a year,” Creasey said.
The district will follow the existing boundaries of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, which are from Riverside Drive on the north to High Street on the south and from North State Street on the west to I-55 on the east. A parcel of property at High and State streets that is part of the Downtown Jackson Partners business improvement district would be exempt.
The district assessment is tied to existing property taxes, so each property owner’s assessment will be different. The legislation is limited to a maximum of 6 mills. A mill is equal to $1 per every $1,000 of a property’s assessed taxable value.
The owner of a property assessed at $20,000 with the 6-mill maximum district assessment would pay approximately $120 per year. The additional tax assessment would boost the amount of annual taxes a property owner pay from $40-$100. “It’s not a huge amount of money but a lot when you add it up,” Creasey said.
When the district is created, the city of Jackson must inform the Mississippi Department of Revenue about the millage rate to add to taxable real property within the community improvement district. The special assessment is then collected through the same process now used to collect property taxes.
The city will disburse the proceeds of the special assessment to the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, with the foundation keeping the funds separately from other funds and maintaining strict accounting, audit and public disclosure guidelines.
In the first year, some of the funds would be used to establish a master plan and then those funds would be allocated to a different area of need, Creasey said. The process will involve several town hall meetings and planning charettes with neighborhood residents to determine what they would like to see done in the district.