Wish List: Crime, land banks and water bills top city's legislative agenda

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Measures that would help Jackson clean up abandoned properties, fight crime and give the city more leeway in adjusting water and sewer bills are among items on the city’s legislative agenda.

The 2019 legislative session recently got under way, and members of the Jackson delegation will have a full slate of items to consider on behalf of the capital city.

The Jackson City Council recently approved resolutions for three measures it plans to ask lawmakers to support during the session. It also is considering three others but had yet to pass them at press time.

Among measures, the city is seeking legislation that would allow it to establish land banks and allow it to have more authority in adjusting customers’ water bills.

Jackson also is seeking funding for the establishment of a “real time crime center,” which would allow the police department to enhance policing capabilities, improve response time and increase its case-solving rate.

Three other resolutions were up for consideration at the council’s first January meeting, but they were tabled for further discussion.

Those included one that would eliminate the sunshine provisions placed on the city’s one-percent infrastructure tax, another that would allow the administration to appoint two at-large members to the Jackson Redevelopment Authority (JRA) board of commissioners, and one that would secure funding to purchase right-of-way maintenance equipment for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Those measures will likely be taken up at the council’s January 21 meeting.

City officials say they need land bank legislation to better address blighted property.

According to the resolution passed by the council, Jackson has 106 square miles of land, including many blighted industrial sites.

Land banks would give the city a new tool to clean up those sites. They would have the ability to purchase properties, clean them and sell them, as well as raise funds from private donors to do additional cleanup.

The quasi-governmental groups are also able to clear titles, making the properties easier to sell. In some cases, these properties would be unable to sell or redevelop because of “complicated liens and confused ownership histories,” according to city documents.

Two land bank bills were introduced in the 2019 session. However, both failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee.

Jackson also is seeking bond funding to establish a “real time crime center” for the Jackson Police Department (JPD).

Real time crime centers allow police departments to use technology, such as state-of-the-art surveillance systems, to track and respond to crimes in hotspots across the city. 

These centers have been implemented in cities around the country, including Memphis.

The city-wide surveillance system there allows the department to detect crimes as they occur, record footage, and identify potential suspects and potential witnesses.

The tool also gives the department more information before going to a scene, meaning officers are more prepared when they arrive.

Jackson officials say investing in the center would be costly but would “deter crime in both residential and business communities.”

The council also is seeking legislation that would give the city more authority in adjusting, releasing or cancelling water indebtedness in certain instances.

Currently, municipalities are unable to cancel water debt for customers, and have to maintain that debt on their books in perpetuity. 

“There are instances of error on the part of the publicly owned water and sewer utilities, such as equipment failure or process failure, which may cause an increase in the customer’s indebtedness,” the city resolution states. “The inability to make adjustments under the current policies continues to endanger the social welfare for the citizens we serve.”

Resolutions still up for consideration include one that would do away with the sunset provision on the city’s one-percent infrastructure sales tax.

Ward Four Councilman De’Keither Stamps and Ward Six Councilman Aaron Banks did not support the idea, in part, because residents voted in favor of the tax knowing it was temporary.

However, the two said they would support the legislature allowing residents to vote on extending the tax indefinitely.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba agreed, saying he would support that language as well.

Other resolutions introduced included asking the state for $250,000 to purchase right-of-way maintenance equipment. The council would like to amend that resolution to ask for a larger amount.

Jackson also would like to add two additional members to the JRA board: an urban planning professional and the director of the city’s department of planning and development.

The board is currently governed by a five-member board of commissioners.

Council members questioned whether the director of planning should be made a board member, saying the authority was designed to be semi-autonomous.

John Dinkins, JRA chair, doesn’t have a problem with the proposal, adding that the planning director already attends JRA board meetings.

“It would be good to have someone on the board who knows the inner-workings and objectives of the city,” he said. “If it’s moving toward doing good things for Jackson, I’m all for it.”

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