Legislature appropriates $78M for Jackson, lowballs water/sewer needs with $25M ‘dollar-for-dollar’ match

3OYS investigative series estimated Capital City’s water/sewer fixes at over $1.7 billion
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 9:09 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While Mississippi legislators may feel a sense of accomplishment after doling out nearly $1.5 billion in federal aid over two days, those same elected officials appropriated less than two percent to help tackle gargantuan water and sewer system issues in the state’s largest city and all but guaranteed future water emergencies for tens of thousands of residents.

The decision came at a time when this year’s legislative session saw more federal money ready to meet the needs of Mississippians than any other time in recent history.

At the same time, the needs of the Capital City’s water and sewer systems -- which 3 On Your Side estimated would take more than $1.7 billion to fully address -- have never been greater.

When State Rep. Shanda Yates spoke to WLBT in February, she anticipated legislators would appropriate $40 million that would be combined with existing and future American Rescue Plan Act money given specifically to Jackson: enough money to fund four major projects within the city.

That money would have been placed in a special water/sewer fund for Jackson administered by the state’s Department of Finance and Administration.

Instead, lawmakers reduced the flow of much-needed infrastructure dollars to the majority-Black city, offering to match every dollar Jackson used of its ARPA money for water/sewer repairs.

State Sen. John Horhn said the city’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, said they could only contribute $25 million in ARPA funds, which capped the state’s contribution at that same amount.

“We all know it’s not enough. And a lot of this money was spent on other things, quite frankly, when we should have been focused on water, this one time opportunity to fix the water system for the people in Jackson and the people in Byram,” said State Sen. David Blount, one of the members of the Jackson delegation. “And we spent more time talking about the tax cut than we did focusing on what we really need to focus on, which is the water.”

Blount said that money will go into the water/sewer fund created by Yates’ bill, House Bill 1031, once the city provides matching funds.

The other $53 million intended for Jackson’s coffers -- once Gov. Tate Reeves signs these bills into law -- aims to bring more revenue to the city through economic and crime prevention investments, the largest of which will be a $13 million infusion to help create the Otter Creek Golf Park at LeFleur’s Bluff.

The golf park, Horhn said, will also have a Robert Trent Jones golf course to draw visitors from all over the south.

Horhn said a ‘crime prevention package’ would contribute at least $7.4 million toward that effort, though he could not provide specifics.

Additionally, the appropriations also include improvements to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame ($2.5 million), Thalia Mara Hall ($2 million) and the city’s planetarium ($2 million).

A parking garage in Fondren -- separately financed through a general obligation bond guaranteed by Hinds County -- will cost up to $20 million and will be constructed behind the recently-reopened Capri Theater. It does not utilize federal funds.

“Those are good things. But the top priority for everybody from Jackson was money for the water system,” Blount said. “That’s the crisis, that is what needs to be addressed.”

Blount called his colleagues’ decision to lowball Jackson’s critical infrastructure needs with so much federal money available a “missed opportunity,” one easily influenced by other things happening in the city.

“The garbage situation certainly doesn’t help,” Blount said.

Horhn said his fellow lawmakers would often throw controversies involving Jackson’s mayor and city council in his face as reasons not to move forward with helping fund the city’s water and sewer systems.

“It washes back over on the efforts that we’re making, to try to get resources for the city of Jackson and for Hinds County,” Horhn said. “Our inside joke is ‘the Legislature loves to hate Jackson.’ And they demonstrate that by making it very, very tough for us to get resources from the Legislature each year.”

Horhn hopes to sit down with city and county leaders over the summer to hammer out a long-term plan for the city’s struggling water and sewer systems.

Until then, what little has been appropriated will have to do.

“The $25 million is a short term Band-Aid on a very, very major problem. And what we are hopeful of is our being able to come together so that when we come in January, we’ll have a path forward that will not put just a Band-Aid on the problem, but fix it in the long term,” Horhn said.

Here is the full list of the projects approved for Jackson utilizing federal dollars, provided by Horhn:

Jackson Convention Center parking lot$1 million
Thalia Mara Hall improvements$2 million
Planetarium improvements$2 million
Fire suppression truck (Hawkins Field)$940,000
Medgar/Myrlie Evers documentary (MPB)$350,000
Briarwood pool ADA accessibility$250,000
White Oak Creek erosion improvements$2 million
Eubanks Creek improvements$500,000
Tougaloo College mansion$600,000
LeFleur’s Bluff Otter Creek Golf Park$13 million
Crime prevention package$7.4 million (minimum)
Jackson water/sewer infrastructure (dollar-for-dollar match)$25 million
Scott Ford House preservation$200,000
JPS Career Development Center repairs$300,000
Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame improvements$2.5 million

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