Ordinance would spell out procedures for allowing community improvement districts

Ordinance would spell out procedures for allowing community improvement districts
Voting records suggest Jackson city council candidate could have violated state law through residency requirements

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A new ordinance could help spell out how the city of Jackson implements community improvement districts (CIDs).

On Tuesday, Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay introduced an ordinance to establish procedures for adopting and operating local improvement districts.

The measure was placed in the Rules Committee for further discussion and is slated to be brought up for a vote at the Feb. 16 council meeting.

CIDs are special taxing districts. Property owners within them pay special assessments along with their annual property taxes, which are then set aside to fund public improvements within them.

“Think of it as a self-imposed property tax,” said City Attorney Tim Howard. “It may be used for such things as (enhancing) the appearance of the district … for private patrol services, for landscaping, for permanent improvements such as lighting, improving the sidewalks, improving the median in the areas.”

Legislation allowing CIDs was approved in 2019.

However, the bill did not spell out procedures the city had to follow in implementing the districts, nor did it answer certain questions that have come up as a result of COVID-19.

Before a neighborhood can apply to form a district, applicants must obtain signatures from at least 60 percent of property owners within the CID’s proposed boundaries.

From there, a neighborhood must submit a strategic plan to the city to show how CID funds would be used. Once that is signed off on, a vote is set and all eligible voters in the area are allowed to vote. If approved, the council then must approve a resolution establishing it, and the information is submitted to the Mississippi Department of Revenue. State statute mandates that the districts are dissolved after the strategic plan is fulfilled.

State statute mandates that those petitioning for the districts must be homeowners’ associations or foundations that are 501(c)(3) certified.

Howard said there were some gaps in the state statute that the ordinance addresses, including some questions that were brought up when the first neighborhood began working on a CID.

That neighborhood was the Greater Belhaven Foundation (GBF), which began collecting signatures from home and property owners in 2019.

To do that, the foundation hosted signing events and sent volunteers door-to-door. However, those in-person efforts were halted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A question was whether the petition signatures necessary to begin the process may be collected electronically,” Howard said. “This question has already been presented to us by at least one homeowner’s association.”

The neighborhood was allowed to collect e-signatures after the city sought an opinion from the state attorney general’s office.

Lindsay’s ordinance would codify the attorney general’s opinion in city code, and would allow them to be accepted as long as the signatures come through “reliable third-party electronic signature services, such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign.”

Another issue addressed by the ordinance includes spelling out how to determine the number of taxable parcels in a district.

“That can be interpreted two ways: either as 60 percent of the number of taxable parcels in the district. That’s the easiest way,” Howard said. “The other is the taxable land area, which is more difficult and cumbersome on the city to determine that.”

The ordinance would interpret taxable properties as the total number of properties, rather than the land area.

Ward Four Councilman De’Keither Stamps questioned whether larger property owners would have a greater say than those who have smaller parcels. He also pointed out that not all property owners are eligible voters or live in the district.

“If you’ve got major institutions that own hundreds and hundreds of acres of land, and only get one vote, I’d like to see what the other alternative looks like,” Stamps said.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city has to be careful in awarding votes based on wealth.

Lumumba supports CIDs, in parts, because it could free up city resources to help less prosperous areas.

“If someone is willing to give more because they have more, we should take advantage of that so we can allocate (our resources) to those areas that don’t have,” he said.

Other provisions of the proposed ordinance include:

  • defining the taxable parcels
  • limiting CIDs to no more than 15 years in duration;
  • prohibiting homeowners groups from entering into contractual obligations that extend beyond the duration of the district;
  • mandating that homeowners associations (HOA) must enter into memorandums of understanding with the city before making improvements within public rights-of-way;
  • and, mandating that the city is not responsible for any debt taken on by an HOA.

The ordinance would take effect 30 days after its passage.

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