Jackson mayor: ‘City should not be extorted ... to get the resources we justly deserve’

Mayor Lumumba updates city on water crisis - VOD - clipped version

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba broke his silence Monday on comments that he made during a recent debate that Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann was using the airport as leverage to help the city repair its infrastructure.

In the first mayoral debate last week, Lumumba said the lieutenant governor offered to give the city $30 million if the city gave him the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

“I don’t favor that position,” Lumumba said Monday. “The city should not be extorted in any way to get the resources we justly deserve.”

Hosemann’s office declined to comment for this story.

Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport Source: WLBT
Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport Source: WLBT

The mayor has a second meeting with Hosemann this week, where the city’s infrastructure needs will be discussed further, saying he looks forward to those discussions.

“I think that sincere people can have sincere disagreements, but one of the main points of dialogue and diplomacy is coming to the table in a sincere way to help the people we serve.”

For years, the state has been attempting to wrest control of the airport from the capital city. In 2016, lawmakers voted to do away with the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, the airport’s governing body, and replace it with a regional board made up of state, county, and city appointees.

Jackson and JMAA have been challenging that legislation in U.S. District Court. “As for the status of the lawsuit, we feel good about our position as a city,” the mayor said.

Meanwhile, Jackson faces about $2 billion in infrastructure needs, including about $1 billion for water.

Many of the deficiencies of the city’s water system came to light following the February winter storms, which crippled the city’s treatment plants and led to more than 80 main breaks across the city.

“Our system was not normal prior to the event,” Public Works Director Charles Williams said. “We had a number of water main breaks throughout the system that disrupted water to our customers.

“We also had issues with our plant that were evident through an inspection by the EPA about a year ago. We have been working to address those particular issues but the winter storms exposed a lot of deficiencies that were known in the report.

“That is why we are requesting funding from additional resources,” Williams added.

Lumumba said the city was still assessing damage, but said as of Monday it was in excess of $18 million. In its report to the state, it said that more than $18.7 million in damage had occurred in the county as a result of the winter storms, with most of that happening in Jackson.

Damages aside, the city is seeking $107 million in state and federal funding to help address immediate needs in the distribution system and at the O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plants.

Last week, the mayor sent a letter to Gov. Tate Reeves seeking $47 million in funding to help bring the water treatment systems into compliance.

At a special called meeting, the city council backed that request and tacked on its own request to seek an additional $60 million to build new water tanks in South Jackson, West Jackson, and Byram.

Gov. Tate Reeves has not ruled out helping the city and has even said he’d be willing to see a portion of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package go to help Jackson

However, in an interview with CNN’s State of the Nation, Reeves said the city’s current water crisis was due to years of neglect.

Lumumba agreed with Reeves that the system has suffered from a lack of maintenance, but said the city hasn’t had the resources to make the repairs. He said that previous efforts to reach out to the state have fallen flat.

“We’ve talked exhaustively about the limitation of city budgets, the aging infrastructure, the increased effect of things – hotter summers, colder winters and more rain, and the effect that has on infrastructure,” he said.

“It is a measure of the responsibility of not only cities but a reflection of the responsibility of state leadership and state resources and federal resources.”

He also pointed to the fact that cities like Jackson are challenged with not only maintaining resources but providing services to state and federal buildings without receiving any compensation for doing so.

Capital cities must provide services like fire and police protection and water to state-owned buildings, but because those facilities are tax-exempt, the city is not compensated for doing so.

About a quarter of the properties in downtown Jackson are state-owned, according to a previous study conducted by Downtown Jackson Partners and Jackson State University.

Lumumba discussed efforts other states have taken to help capital cities meet their infrastructure needs, including establishing payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, programs to help make up for lost tax revenue.

Nonprofits, educational institutions, and medical groups also participate in these programs. In Boston, for instance, medical cultural, and educational institutions provide an annual cash contribution to the city to help offset their tax-exempt statuses, Boston’s website states.

In 2020, those groups contributed more than $33 million to that city, more than what Lumumba said Hosemann offered for Jackson-Evers.

“In the city of Jackson’s instance, we don’t even get water bills from the state, even though we provide water to them,” Lumumba said. “As we talk about the water crisis, that is a significant note to make.”

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