JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson’s COVID-19 relief funds could go a long way in helping the city spruce up its image.
On Monday, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told city council members that he would like them to consider using CARES Act money to demolish several eyesores across the city.
Among them, he mentioned the Casa Grande Apartments, the Apple Ridge shopping center, the old police precinct behind the King Edward Building, and dilapidated motels along I-20.
“We have these large eyesores to address but we never have the wiggle room in our budget to do it,” the mayor said. “If we try to do it at any other time, we’ll never have the money.”
No action was taken at the work session and no items were introduced for council consideration. However, members seem to be open to the idea.
Council President Aaron Banks, for instance, commended the mayor for looking at “outside-the-box remedies” to address blight.
“It’s going to go far, and I have to thank you for that,” he said.
The city received nearly $4 million in federal CARES Act funds through the state legislature.
The funds were allocated to cities and counties to reimburse them for COVID-19 expenses, such as purchasing personal protective equipment for employees.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine said the funds do not have to be spent on COVID-related items.
“This is a reimbursement for what the city has paid already,” he said. “We spent general fund money to purchase protective equipment, so this is a reimbursement.”
In August, the Mississippi Legislature allocated nearly $70 million in CARES funds to cities and counties to help cover coronavirus-related expenses, such as purchasing masks, gloves and other items.
The funds were doled out based on population, and local governments had to apply to receive them.
“We don’t determine what they use the money for, we just provide reimbursement for what (expenses) were approved,” said Kelly Richardson, public information officer with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Once the monies are received, they go back into the city or county’s general fund, she said.
Jackson received more than $4 million, the full amount for which it was eligible.
Blaine said, “Most of it will be kept as cash-on-hand, so we can have money for PPE and anything related to COVID-19.”
However, the administration hopes at least a portion of the funds will be used to demolish properties that have been eyesores for years.
The Casa Grande apartments, for instance, have been abandoned since at least 2014.
The complex could cost millions to tear down.
“Last I heard, I think, it was somewhere in the tune of $1.6 million,” Banks said in 2018. “And it may be more when you talk about the condition of the buildings. There may be asbestos and some other things that are there.”
By comparison, Jackson’s budget for adjudicating properties this year is around $450,000.
That amount includes $158,000 for mowing grass and boarding up properties and $289,000 for property demolition. As of January 8, almost all of the demolition budget had been allocated.