Lindsay on joining Jackson’s council
Virgi Lindsay was recently elected Ward Seven councilwoman for the city of Jackson. Before joining the council, Lindsay was a newspaper reporter and longtime executive director of the Greater Belhaven Foundation (GBF). She recently spoke to Senior Sun Staff Writer Anthony Warren about her position and the issues facing the city.
How are things going since you’ve been elected?
“It has been a rewarding time. It’s been difficult and full of challenges, but also many opportunities.”
Is the job as you expected?
“I don’t know if anyone has ever been fully prepared to step into public office unless they’ve served in public office before. It actually has been more interesting than I expected. Every day, I come to city hall with an opportunity to do something about the problems facing the city. There is much work to be done. Finding the funding and the resources to accomplish that work is the biggest task at hand.”
From your standpoint, what are some of the things that must be done in the city?
“The obvious ones are infrastructure, public schools, an adequately funded and fully staffed police department, and addressing public transportation needs. But we also have huge challenges that speak directly to the quality of life, such as maintaining libraries, day care centers, public parks, mowing medians and right-of-ways. From the city council’s perspective we are doing everything we can to support and encourage initiatives that can adequately maintain the city and care for the citizens that call Jackson home.”
When it comes to infrastructure, what is the top priority?
“The top priority for me is fixing the pipes underneath the ground. Water and sewer (lines) must be a priority. Until we fix those, the roads will always be in disrepair. There are examples all over the city where roads have been repaved and then have had to be dug up to repair broken water and sewer lines. It’s like replacing a sewer line at your home. It costs a lot to repair, and you don’t get the joy of seeing it, but you certainly appreciate its function.”
Jackson Engineering Manager Charles Williams has told the council repeatedly that the city needs an overall master plan to outline the city’s needs, yet one has not been put in place. What can you, as a councilwoman, do to encourage the city to develop a plan?
“I know the mayor has mentioned that (too). The city council can support it in a direct way, such as providing funding to create a plan if we’re asked to do so by the mayor.”
You say Mayor Chokwe Lumumba wants to see one of these plans developed. Is the city looking for a consultant or planning to hire one?
“We’re not that far along, and I’m uncertain of the timeline the city has for bringing one on.”
The administration proposed a two-mill increase, then advertised for a three-mill increase and finally settled on a two-mill increase. Tell me about that.
“We had to advertise for three mills in case through the budget process we discovered that the (deficit) was so large that we need more money to meet the needs of our citizens. The mayor presented the council with a budget that included two mills and that is what we considered.”
Why did you support raising the millage rate?
As an elected official, it’s easy to say ‘no- no to any tax increase.” However, after much thought and consideration, I realized that the two mills would help us with the immediate and pressing needs in the city, such as allowing us to hire more police officers.
It’s not like you ran on a lower taxes campaign, so you’re not breaking any campaign promises.
“No; my focus was on dealing with infrastructure issues, supporting the police department, Jackson Public Schools, and improving and enhancing neighborhoods. The decision to support the two-mill increase was not made lightly. We (as a council) did not do it because it was easy. Quite the contrary, it was very difficult to make the decision, but we were in a situation where our needs exceeded our current revenue.”
How are sales tax revenues in the city?
“We all need to be aware of the fact that sales tax revenue is falling short. Our citizens can help by remembering to shop in Jackson.”
How much are revenues off?
“Throughout fiscal year 2017, revenues were down by more than a million dollars, or around $91,000 a month (as of June).”
One of the major issues right now is the Jackson Police Department’s budget. The department is unable to bring on officers, in part, because of low salaries. Officers aren’t willing to transfer to Jackson because they’d have to move into the city, as required by the city’s residency ordinance. Potential employees don’t want to do that because of the low pay wouldn’t justify the move. Should the city get rid of the residency ordinance?
“I would vote to repeal the residency ordinance. We need more police officers and we need to be able to pay them a higher salary. It’s all related.”
Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about the Jackson-Hinds Library System. Jackson is giving the system more money, but the library still has a number of branches that are in poor structural shape. Also, expenses for the system continue to grow. What can the city do to help this problem?
“The council is committed to looking at every possible option. I know the mayor is looking at this issue carefully. Libraries are one of our greatest assets and have services that benefit all of our citizens. We need to do everything we can to keep out libraries operating.”
At least four branches, including the Willie Morris and Charles Tisdale locations, are within a mile and a half of each other. Should any branches be closed?
“I would need more information on that. This loops around to public transportation. The libraries meet basic needs in the community, such as providing internet access to those who don’t have computers in their homes. Internet access is tied to students being successful in school and adults being able to complete job applications. If we’re going to consolidate branches, we need to make sure adequate public transport is available so that people can get to the libraries.”
What are some of the requests you’ve gotten so far from constituents?
“I’ve been asked to help get cars out the impound lot; fix water and sewer lines; repair broken sidewalks and the never-ending list of potholes; make certain that public transportation programs are (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. I have been asked to support a gating ordinance. I’ve been asked to oppose a gating ordinance.”
What is your stance on gating?
“I support a proposed ordinance that provides an application process for gating. Every proposed gate is different. Therefore each application needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The council was expected to approve the 2018 budget and an amended gating ordinance on September 12.