Cover costs

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Mayor suggests city oversees one-percent projects

Jackson’s new mayor could have a solution to the city’s one-percent program management woes: Let public works oversee the projects, and reimburse the city for labor costs related to that work using one-percent dollars.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba discussed the idea at the recent budget hearing for public works.

The hearing came months after the department took over program management services from the previous manager, IMS Engineers.

IMS quit working earlier this year after its contract with the city ran out of money.

 

Lumumba asked interim Public Works Director Jerriot Smash if the department had kept track of the hours employees had worked on one-percent projects.

Smash said no, but said the department could begin doing so.

“I ask that in terms of the money that ultimately will be allocated for program management and whether (the one-percent commission) has the capacity to reimburse the city for the work it’s doing,” Lumumba said. “If we’re doing the work …”

Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester, council vice president, cautioned the mayor, saying the commission had historically opposed the idea of reimbursing the city for labor costs.

“They’ve been loath to pay us, because we’re supposed to be doing the work anyway,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s (a) correct or incorrect position, but we’ve historically met with opposition to that.”

Priester was not opposed to logging the hours worked, and said doing so could help sway the commission into supporting the idea.

“I think it’s a good effort if you want to try and go that way,” he said.

 

The commission is a 10-member panel that oversees how Jackson spends a special one-percent infrastructure sales tax. State statute requires commissioners to draw up a master plan and ensure the city spends infrastructure tax revenues in compliance with the plan.

The tax was implemented in 2014 and to date has generated more than $46.2 million.

Commission Co-Chair Duane O’Neill was favorable to the mayor’s idea, but said some questions still must be answered, including how much Jackson would charge for program management and whether the city could legally be reimbursed under state law.

“It could be a viable alternative to take a look at,” he said.

Commissioner Pete Perry said he’s also open to listening to any idea the mayor proposes, but doesn’t believe one-percent dollars can be used to supplement the city’s budget.

He said using money for city salaries could be considered just that.

“Granted (public works) has more jobs to do (because of the one-percent money), but that’s what their role is - to oversee projects.”

 

Perry would support hiring a third party for program management, as long as that firm works on behalf of the city and the commission.

“IMS made it clear they reported to the mayor.”

The former program managers were criticized numerous times for not responding to the commission’s request for information and for not adequately preparing for board meetings

Partly in response to its concerns with IMS, the commission approved a long-term master plan in the spring that included rules governing program management.

According to the plan, the role of the program manager “shall be determined by the commission and (that the manager) will serve as a liaison between the commission, the department of public works and the city.”

Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote had similar concerns about the use of one-percent money for salaries. “That money is supposed to go to specific projects,” he said.

 

IMS was brought on in December 2015, for approximately $840,000.

The one-percent commission allocated the funding as part of its first-year master plan, and the city council approved the contract.

The contract was for one year, and gave the city the option to extend the agreement for two one-year terms.

IMS asked for $1.5 million for its second year, but the funding was not approved by the commission.

Regardless of whether the commission would support reimbursing the city or not, O’Neill, Perry and Foote agree less needs to be spent on program management.

“The money needs to be a lot less,” O’Neill said “Other firms have talked about (IMS’) contract and its costs were way out of line.”

O’Neill wouldn’t say what firms he had spoken to.

Mississippi Code Section 27-65-241 states that the master plan must include plans for “road and street repair, reconstruction and resurfacing projects based on traffic patterns, need and usage, and for water, sewer and drainage projects.”

Also under the law, the city may use tax revenues to leverage debt to pay for improvements in accordance with the master plan.

The statute does expressly prohibit or permit using one-percent revenues for program management.

 

 

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