Raising taxes to fight crime? The mayor says Jackson residents will support it

Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba speaks at a recent Jackson Rotary Club meeting.
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba speaks at a recent Jackson Rotary Club meeting.(WLBT)
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 6:22 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said home and business owners likely would be willing to support a modest property tax increase if it meant bolstering numbers in the Jackson Police Department and contributing to the city’s overall effort to address violent crime.

Last week, the mayor proposed a 2-mill property tax increase, in part, to fund a pay raise for veteran officers.

Mills are units of measurements equal to one one-thousandth of a dollar, according to taxfoundation.org. It is used to determine annual property taxes.

The move comes nearly a year after the city council approved raising pay for new recruits and early-career officers as part of the 2020-21 budget cycle.

It also comes as Jackson is on track to eclipse 2020 as a record year for homicides. So far this year, 92 homicides have been reported in the capital city, up from 74 through the same time last year.

Last year’s decision to raise base pay for officers was designed to help the city attract new recruits. However, it did not include additional pay for officers who had been with the department for six years or longer.

Lumumba told members of the Jackson Rotary Club Monday that as part of the city’s multi-pronged approach to address crime, the city needs to bolster JPD’s ranks. One way to do that, he said, was by increasing pay for veteran personnel.

“We are having discussions about how we increase salaries of our officers in our budget cycle right now,” he said. “We must fill our police department. We must give dignity to the job of being a law enforcement officer, but we also must invest in the community.”

The mayor says a 2-mill increase would cover raises for veterans officers and would give the city additional funding to implement new programs, such as violence interruption programs and credible messenger programs, which are designed to stop crimes before they occur.

He believes the additional tax would be a relatively small investment for most homeowners, but one that would be well worth it.

A 2-mill increase would represent a roughly $20 increase in property taxes on a home valued at $100,000.

“That means if you own a million-dollar property, you’ll have to pay an additional $200 at the end of the year,” he said. “Do I believe (those owners) are willing to pay $200 more a year to (ensure) that we have a robust public safety effort? I’m betting they would want to do that.”

The increase would generate about $2.4 million annually.

The city is currently advertising for a public hearing to vote on the proposed millage increase. It is still up to the city council to take action.

At a budget hearing last week, some council members asked whether a portion of American Rescue Plan funds could be used to pay for the increase.

In June, the White House announced that state, local, territorial and tribal governments would be allowed to use ARP funding to combat crime, including using the funding to hire additional police.

Lumumba, though, said using those one-time dollars to fund a perpetual expense would be a “bad investment.”

The proposed tax hike would allow the city to raise JPD corporals from $37,000 to $41,000 a year. Meanwhile, salaries for communications and dispatch officials would have pay increased to $15 an hour.

“If you give someone a raise, you have to establish where the money is coming from in perpetuity,” he said. “By taking that one-time funding, you’re kicking the can down the road... it’s setting the stage for a bad investment you’ll have to come back and correct later on.”

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