The Jackson City Council and Mayor's office sparred Monday over whether the city is operating at a deficit with little reserves. Anna Wolfe reported in the Clarion-Ledger yesterday (in a story that was buried on page three) :
Jackson officials believe the city’s budget could be in a state of crisis, but the mayor’s office has declined to produce current numbers.Ms. Wolfe obtained a copy of the memo and published it in an additional story published yesterday as well. Ms. Wolfe reported:
Councilman Melvin Priester opened up a special meeting Monday morning with a direct question: Is it true that the city has spent all of its unencumbered general fund balance and $4 million of its emergency fund?
The city has yet to answer...
Mayor Tony Yarber initially asked the meeting be held so the administration could prep the council on various public works contracts, including the half-billion dollar consent decree program management contract the administration has recommended be awarded to AECOM.
“I don’t see how we move forward with even discussing the contract if we don’t know where we are in terms of our revenue and expenses and in particular, where we are in terms of our fund balance and our reserve balance,” said Councilman Tyrone Hendrix. “Maybe we can’t afford to pay for it if we don’t know where we are.”
When Priester called the meeting Thursday, he added a budget discussion onto the agenda and asked the city to produce numbers for the current fund balance and reserves. “Those are the terms on which this meeting was agreed to,” Priester said after Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Marshand Crisler told the council that he was advised by the mayor not to discuss questions regarding the budget...
It’s my understanding that the mayor has known for at least several weeks at this point that we have used up all of our fund balance. We have zero fund balance left, and we have a reserve deficit of approximately $4,187,367,” Priester said. “If the mayor wants to continue to ostrich, that’s on him. We need to know how much money we have in our reserve. We need to be able to have good information that the council has been requesting for months at this point.”
In a statement, Yarber said he requested a separate meeting to address the budget issue at length. The meeting the council set Monday, Yarber said, conflicted with the Rankin-Hinds Flood Control meeting he had to attend.
“While it would appear some council members are in campaign mode, the administration is focused on the numerous paving projects that have begun in the city of Jackson. We wanted to update the council on those projects and the impact the work will have on citizens and the community. We will not allow our road work progress to be overshadowed by political ploys attempting to shift the conversation. Of course, the administration will provide the requested budget information to council. We have been forecasting the city’s budget concerns for the past two years,” Yarber said in his statement....
The memo, dated May 2, indicates that in closing out FY 2015, the city used all $6,990,031 of its fund balance, which the city may spend freely, plus $4,187,367 of its emergency reserve fund. That leaves the city with about half of what it should have in reserves....
By law, the city is required to keep 7.5 percent of its general fund in a reserve, but the memo from Michelle Battee-Day, the Director of Administration, recommends that the fund balance requirement be lowered to 3 percent.
Council members say the administration did not provide them this memo....
Meanwhile, the media went into a sudden frenzy last night when word got around that Representative Mark Baker (R-Green Acres) was drafting a bill that would um, give the state the power to appoint a conservator if one is ever needed. WLBT reported:
Representative Mark Baker is currently drafting legislation that would grant Governor Phil Bryant direct control over Jackson's city government.
This would be similar to what Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had over the city governments of Detroit and Flint through the appointment of Emergency Managers.
When we spoke to Baker he said the legislation had not yet been drafted but, “I’m working on it.This is something I’m looking at.”
Governor Bryant said that he was unaware of the legislation.
"I don't see any universe in which I would takeover responsibility for the City of Jackson," he told us.
Kingfish note: Sigh. I will simply repost what I wrote last year when the city council adopted a budget:
The problem is except for Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, no one on the city council has owned or operated a business. They are thinking not like liberals or conservatives but people who have been in government their whole lives and do not know what to do. Well, the Kingfish is going to offer some suggestions in order to help them see things in a different way.
There are basic functions a city government must provide: police, fire protection, water and sewer service, trash removal, and road maintenance. Everything else is gravy. It makes no sense to cut personnel in public works when everyone knows Jackson's infrastructure is falling apart while Jackson carries museums, gardens, and golf courses on its books.
The City Council has been committing financial suicide for quite some time but the finances have gotten much worse ever since Chowke Lumumba became Mayor. Here are some reminders:
*Mayor Lumumba hiked the budget by 40%. Part of the increase was to begin infrastructure projects BUT he managed to pour the government honey in other areas- such as his office. Yup. Mayor Lumumba gave his office a $1 million budget increase so he could stuff the payroll with his cronies.
*The city council instituted an increase in minimum wage for city employees even though revenues were flat. If you pay them, the money will come. Great slogan for the city council's mindset.
*The loss of businesses such as Puckett Machinery. All Puckett wanted was some curb cutouts for its facilities on Highway 80. Mayor Harvey Johnson couldn't even return the phone calls for help. Sources say the city lost sales tax revenue that was over a million dollars. That is just one business.
*The city council budget. The city council operates the city clerk's office. The city council made sure all council members had a full-time assistant and made them employees under the city clerk. The clerk's office has not one but TWO policy analysts. The city council has steadily increased the number of employees and the budget of the city clerk with no regard for paying for this honeypot.
*Then there are the collections in public works. Mr. Foote said the city was collecting water/sewer fees that were $20 million short of what they should be. The Raftelis report focuses on Jackson's mismanagement of this basic service. This little fact ties into....
*The city council abolished the reconnect fees for water and sewer service. If your cable, cellphone, or electric services are stopped, you have to pay a reconnect-fee in order to re-establish service. It acts as an additional incentive to pay the bill on time. Jackson removed that fee after Ms. Stokes threw a tantrum over it so Jackson residents have one less incentive to pay their water bills on time.
The city council should not look at furloughs nor layoffs but instead look at cutting whole departments. Is each department one that the city should continue to operate and fund? Want some suggestions? Here is a short list:
*The Planetarium. Give it to the Mississippi Museum of Art. Its nice, its cute, its fun for the kids, but it is not making money for the city and it is an expense Jackson can not afford. It is already part of the same building as the Museum. Just give it to them and get it off of the books.
*Mynelle Gardens. Its a beautiful place and has provided wonderful memories for many a bride. However, the city can't really afford to operate or promote Mynelle Gardens. Give it to a non-profit organization or the state. Get it off the books.
*The municipal golf course. Jackson makes little, if any money on the golf courses. Parks and recreation are a proper function of government. However, it is completely misguided when Jackson wastes money on a golf course used by few while it does not even have a dog park- something that is popular in most major cities. The city actually has two public golf courses. The state operates another one at Lefluer's Bluff. Jackson does not need three public golf courses. Period.
*The Municipal Art Gallery. There are several museums in Jackson. The city can not afford to operate the Municipal Art Gallery. It doesn't have the resources to invest in it nor promote it. I love art. I am a member of two museums. Art has a very valuable place in society. It should be used to enlighten and educate. However, Jackson does not have the money to carry the gallery. It is time to either shut it down or give the assets to the state and sell the building. Get it off the books.
*The Jackson Zoo. The burbs benefit from the Jackson Zoo and make no mistake, they put it on their list of amenities when they are recruiting businesses. Its time to move the zoo from a city-operated zoo to one that is regional. That means a regional board. Jackson foots the bill for the zoo and makes up the shortfalls when the zoo needs the money. The burbs should chip in for its operation. However, the burbs will expect to play if they are paying. That means a regional board of trustees overseeing the operation of the zoo although it should be weighted for population. Jackson needs to take a long look at what it wants and what it can afford.
*Capital Complex. The state wants it. Give it to them. Let the state maintain its own infrastructure for the capital complex. The state can provide primary law enforcement while Jackson. Charge the state a fee for the fire protection. JPD will have a reduced area to cover. Jackson can focus on providing services to other areas. Get it off the books. (Note: Well, the legislature killed that idea.)
The city council needs to get some spine and swing an axe at departments and programs that are not a part of a city government's core functions. Mayor Yarber said the city was spending at a level for a population of 200,000 when getting revenue for a population of only 154,000. Something has to change and it needs to change now. Layoffs and furloughs are a mild tonic compared to what really needs to be done. The city council can either start some serious cutting or face a reckoning as Detroit faced.
However, this is a city council that hikes its own budget, raises the minimum wage for employees, raises the overall budget by 40%, abolishes the reconnect fees for water and sewer services, and keeps going down the path of financial suicide while it avoids accepting any responsibility. They won't fix anything unless they are forced to look down the barrel of the deficit gun they loaded.
Pour into this gumbo of government gluttony the contract fiascos, the hendless bickering, and rookie mistakes made by the Mayor and City Council, and voila, here we are.