Jackson council approves boosting pay for police and firefighters as part of 2022 budget

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 3:14 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - After weeks of deliberations, the Jackson City Council has approved its budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Monday, the council voted unanimously to approve the $399 million spending plan, which includes setting aside more than $5.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars in “premium pay” for veteran police officers, firefighters, and dispatchers.

“I’ve never seen this happen in all the years I’ve been serving on this council,” said Council President Virgi Lindsay, following the unanimous vote. “We’ve never had a unanimous vote on the budget (in my years).”

Among highlights, the budget includes setting aside ARPA funds to increase pay to $45,000 for police corporals and Jackson Fire Department lieutenants and to $48,000 for police sergeants and JFD captains. Meanwhile, funds will be used to raise dispatcher pay to $15 an hour, Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks said.

ARPA was passed to provide additional relief to cities and others in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds can be used for things like infrastructure improvements, economic development, and crime prevention.

The funds cannot be used to give police officers a pay raise, per se, but can be used to provide first responders with additional pay for working during the pandemic.

Banks said the APRA funds will serve as a premium, which will compensate first responders for serving during COVID. The funds will be available until 2024.

Council members fought hard to raise police pay largely to prevent officers from leaving for higher salaries elsewhere.

“Being that we’ve had a lot of public safety issues, being that COVID has caused an uptick in violent crime and being we can see we’ve lost dispatchers, firefighters, and officers, who go to other places for competitive pay, this is important,” he said. “It’s important to note, we lost a corporal to the city of Byram. He went to the city making $43,000.”

Currently, corporals earn around $37,000. Officers must be on the force for 10 years to earn the rank of corporal.

Other highlights of the budget include continuing to set aside one mill, or a little more than $1 million, for street resurfacing and setting aside $200,000 to do curb and gutter cleanup work.

The $200,000 previously was used by the Parks and Recreation Department to fund events like Fourth of July fireworks, Easter Egg Hunts, and Juneteenth. The council urged Parks Director Ison Harris to seek sponsors for those events.

The budget also was amended to set aside additional COVID-19 relief dollars for facilities maintenance, infrastructure needs, and economic development.

The council approved an amendment from Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote to require the city to set aside $1 million in COVID-19 relief funds into facilities and building maintenance once the federal government reimburses the city for its COVID response efforts.

The city has yet to apply for the reimbursements and it was not clear when it would. The $1 million would more than triple the $300,000 in general fund money set aside in the maintenance account.

Foote has decried the condition of numerous city-owned buildings, including the Charles Tisdale Library and the Eudora Welty Library. He also has pointed out the city’s negligence in replacing or repairing a broken HVAC at the Mississippi Arts Center in downtown Jackson.

“It’s important we keep them (these buildings) up to operational capacity, both with HVAC units and others,” he said. “It will be a great investment in our facilities across the city.”

Additionally, the council is continuing to allocate one mill in property tax revenue to pave streets and is creating line items to allocate ARPA funds for additional infrastructure work and economic development.

Amounts being set aside for infrastructure and economic investments will be determined by the administration at a later date.

In all, Jackson is slated to receive $42 million in ARPA funding. The city received the first $21 tranche this summer and is expected to receive the second $21 million sometime next year. More than $12 million of the first tranche went to infrastructure needs.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s staff has already stated that he’d like to invest $4 million into an economic development project for Farish Street, $250,000 for the “Bean Patch” tech district, $500,000 for a guaranteed income program for low-income residents, and $250,000 for the Jackson Zoological Park.

The budget takes effect on October 1 and runs until September 30, 2022.

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