Supervisors approve $17 million for Jackson water, water tower on narrow vote

Hinds County Supervisor David Archie speaks at a previous press conference.
Hinds County Supervisor David Archie speaks at a previous press conference.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 5:56 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hinds County supervisors have approved allocating $17 million in ARPA money to help Jackson with its ailing water system.

Monday, the board narrowly approved giving the city $6 million to replace aging water mains in South Jackson, and another $11 million to build a water storage tank, which will serve Jackson residents, and a new jail planned for McDowell Road.

The decision, which is in response to the city’s ongoing water crisis, is being decried by one supervisor, who says the county is giving money to Jackson without the city having a plan on how to spend it.

“Absolutely no plan. So, I’m asking for a plan,” District 2 Supervisor David Archie said, standing outside the boardroom. “ Where’s the plan? Nobody has presented this board with a plan that we’re going to take $6 million to do something with.”

The board approved the measures on 3-1 votes. In each case, Archie voted against it, while Supervisors Credell Calhoun, Vern Gavin, and Bobby McGowan voted in favor. District 1 Supervisor Robert Graham attempted to call into the meeting, but technical difficulties prevented him from voting.

“Not voting against the citizens of Jackson. We will give them all the help that is needed. I wanted us to get the work done. I wanted us to be responsible, Hinds County to be responsible, for that $6 million and making sure the work is done,” he said. “The city of Jackson has too many other different problems and too many other different issues. I don’t even know whether or not they know the $6 million is even coming.”

Gavin, though, says the city has a plan, and that the county is not giving Jackson the money without stipulations attached. “And it’s not a situation where we were just putting money out there,” he said. “It still comes with restrictions that [were] passed down by the federal government.”

ARPA is the American Rescue Plan. The county received approximately $44 million in a direct federal allocation through the act. Funds can be used for infrastructure improvements, COVID-19 premium pay for workers, and other expenses.

District 4 Supervisor Vern Gavin.
District 4 Supervisor Vern Gavin.(WLBT)

Gavin says Archie was just angry because he did not get his way. “It is such that there is a lot of drama being played, and a lot of blame and pointing fingers, and temper-tantrums because they’re not getting the things that they want, and giving the contracts to the people they want,” he said. “Federal funds come with regulations. And what we’re doing is following the regulations passed down... to how [we] most appropriately disperse those funds in a manner that will [serve] the citizens of Hinds County.”

Archie, along with Graham, had proposed giving $19.5 million in ARPA dollars to the city, specifically to be used at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. The plant is essentially the epicenter of the city’s water woes, in part, due to equipment failures and staffing shortages.

However, Archie said on Monday that the county also did not have a plan from the city on how those dollars would be used. “We wanted to simply allot the money to them, and then put the plan in place to get it done,” he said. “You haven’t seen the National Guard on the ground? You haven’t seen all these different press conferences? You haven’t seen the water has been shut down? So we know this is an issue, and it’s under an emergency,” he said. “We signed a declaration. We knew the city needed help. So, one way to provide help was to provide... taxpayers’ dollars to fix their problem.”

Archie and Graham also were concerned about the county’s plans to spend millions on a new water tower. Supporters said the tower would provide better water service to customers in South Jackson, as well as provide water to a new jail. It was not known when construction on the new jail would begin or how it would be paid for. However, Graham said previously that the tower was not needed because a new 48-inch transmission line was being installed to better serve South Jackson residents.

Meanwhile, Archie questions why the cost of the storage tank dropped from $13.5 million to $11 million in a week. “So, my question is, who cut that deal? I know it wasn’t me, for it to go from $13.5 million to $11 million. How can you make a $2.5 million-dollar difference in less than a week’s time?” he asked.

Archie is calling on the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office to investigate why the amount was changed.

For his part, Gavin wasn’t sure why the amount had been reduced. He said Archie previously had supported plans for the water tower, including voting to ratify a survey and engineering agreement with Pickering Engineering back in April and May.

He said the tower was first proposed after the city’s 2021 winter water crisis, which left South Jackson residents without water for weeks. Said Gavin, “That was long before the crisis that we’re enduring right now took place.”

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