Jackson Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr. made several recommendations about how to fix Jackson's budget problems recently. Most of these suggestions will sound very familiar to JJ readers. Compare Mr. Priester's favorite option to what JJ posted a year ago.
Mr. Priester said recommended
4.) 4 mil tax increase, 7.5% in reserve, 10.5 million in cuts. This has BIG advantages in the eyes of the ratings agencies. The truth with this plan: The city could eliminate all social services and niceties and still not pull this off without laying off some policemen though. I'm talking about actually putting uniformed policemen in the unemployment line, none of this "freeze vacant positions" stuff we're talking about now. Also, the zoo gets zero dollars and loses its accreditation, animals go elsewhere. Golf courses close, planetarium and art center close too, some firemen and some public works employees are sent home, not furloughed, fired. This would take a lot of managerial oversight and pain as it really is a reorganization. Have I mentioned people get fired? (OK, where have we read these suggestions? Hmm.... maybe on this site a year ago?)
This is probably the most adult approach. The upside to this and I'm being really honest here, you pull off the bandaid quickly. It's a godfather move. You handle all of your business in one day. The ratings agencies go through the moon with happiness and it's a hard reboot for the next administration and city council because none of us get re-elected after raising your taxes to the max available and laying off police officers in the same year. Next year's budget cycle would have some more cutting likely too, but the heavy lifting is done and we stop having the ridiculous drama every August.
JJ hates to say we told ya so but..... we told ya. JJ suggested a year ago:
That was the news, now for the opinion. 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.... (KF Note: One year later, this number is disputed.)
*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 courses. 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. There are currently three public golf courses in Jackson. Three.
*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 MMA 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.
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 174,000. 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.
Kingfish note: These suggestions are a starting point. I focused on items that create recurring expenses, not what could be gained or lost if an asset is sold or given away. JJ warned these guys a year ago that Jackson would reach this point and now it has.