Senator says Jackson has to spend money on water system before getting more help from state

Senator says Jackson has to spend money on water system before getting more help from state
Councilman Aaron Banks fills a container with non-potable water during the city's winter water crisis. Approximately 43,000 connections experienced little to no water pressure for several weeks. (Source: WLBT)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If Jackson wants the state’s help in repairing its water system, it will have to help itself first, so says District 26 Sen. John Horhn.

During the 2021 session, the city asked lawmakers for more than $100 million to help fund emergency repairs.

The request was made amid the city’s winter water crisis, which left tens of thousands of residents across Jackson without water for weeks.

The request included nearly $47 million to make upgrades at the city’s water treatment plans and $60 million to build additional storage tanks to increase capacity in underserved areas.

That $60 million request was additionally reduced to around $15 million.

However, by the end of the session, neither request had been approved, with the legislature allocating the city just $3 million out of the state’s capital expenditures fund.

Horhn said part of the reason is that Jackson is already set to receive tens of millions of dollars in funding from the American Recovery Plan.

Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn.
Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn.

It also is going to likely receive millions more in emergency assistance once the state’s request for disaster assistance is approved by the president.

As part of ARP, Jackson is slated to receive $47 million in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds.

“The city gave us a $47 million request, yet they’re getting $47 million from HUD,” he said. “They could use the money they’re getting from that to make the repairs.

“Beyond that, what is Hinds County going to dedicate to that effort?”

The county is expected to get another $45 million in ARP funding. District One Supervisor Robert Graham said the board had not decided how it would spend its allocation.

“The first thing we have to do is get it,” he said. “We’ll get half of it (upfront) and the other half will come in 12 months.”

The city and the county are expected to receive the first half of their funding in the next 30 or so days, Horhn said.

Meanwhile, the senator said that as soon as the state’s disaster declaration is approved, Jackson will be able to apply for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Treasury and other agencies.

The state recently received a time extension to submit its request for a major disaster declaration due to the February 11-19 winter storms. Two storms ripped across the state that month, causing widespread damage, including at Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) initially had until March 21 to submit its request but now has until April 16 to submit the request, according to a MEMA news release.

“There may be between $100 million and $200 million they could access from the federal government with the declaration,” Horhn explained. “It’s important the city aggressively goes after those discretionary funds.”

Also on the federal level, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) has authored legislation that would provide Jackson with at least $72 million in additional federal funds through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 219 program and another $25 million from the federal Economic Development Administration’s Economic Adjustment Assistance grants program.

That bill has been referred to a Senate committee, but no action has been taken.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss. (Source: Graeme Jennings)

Horhn was quick to say the state is not closing the door on Jackson but is rather requiring city leaders to pay it forward.

“The feeling in the legislature is, if you’re not trying to help yourself, why should I help you?” he said.

He points to the fact that lawmakers are likely going to set aside a portion of the $1.8 billion in relief funding it is expected to receive from ARP to the city.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann also said he wanted to use $166 million in capital project funds from the federal government to establish a “support fund for every community affected by the ice storm.”

Horhn said state leaders also felt they had time to address the city’s water crisis, in part, because it will take time for Jackson to expend the initial $47 million it’s receiving.

“Let’s say the city dedicates $30 million of the $47 million to this crisis. And let’s say Hinds County gives another $20 million,” he said. “That’s $50 million to get cranked up.”

Add that to the $3 million from the state, “that’s $53 million the city will have a hard time spending,” Horhn said.

Lawmakers also want to see more details on how the city would use any allocation. He pointed to the fact that the city council asked for $60 million to install new water tanks in south and west Jackson, but then reduced that amount to $15 million.

“What they need to do is put in place a plan of action – what they will spend the money on and when,” Horhn said. “They won’t throw a boatload of money at the city without a plan in place.”

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