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Jackson Mayor Wants More JXN Water Engagement, Says More Road Repairs Coming

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba held a town hall at Redeemer Church in Jackson, Miss., on April 16, 2024, to address how his administration is tackling the city’s infrastructure issues. He urged more community engagement from JXN Water as the entity continues repairing the City’s water system and said more road repairs are coming to neighborhoods in the city. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

JACKSON, Miss.—Officials overseeing repairs to the long-beleaguered water system in Mississippi’s capital city need to spend more time engaging with residents who still have concerns about their water bills and the quality of their drinking water, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said this week.

He made the remarks while speaking to local residents during a town hall at Redeemer Church where he also discussed paving neighborhood streets and mitigating flooding concerns. He said JXN Water, the entity in charge of the water system, needs to do more outreach.

“First of all, let me be clear, I am the biggest cheerleader of Ted Henifin. And I have to be because his success is our success,” the mayor said Tuesday, referring to the interim third party manager that a court appointed to oversee Jackson’s water system and repairs following the 2022 water crisis. “But no one is in a position that I’m going to say, ‘It’s OK that you don’t listen to the concerns of every community because you haven’t been here for 30 years suffering from the water insecurity that the people of Jackson have suffered from.’ So I want community engagement.”

“That’s not a commercial on TV. That’s not paying for radio advertisements. Community engagement is listening to people and listening to their circumstances and experiences,” he continued. “We’re going to ensure—because we fought for that (federal infrastructure) money—that we not only have an equitable system, that we not only have a reliable system, but that we are honest with people as we’re working to rebuild the system.”

Ted Henefin listens to Mayor Chokwe A Lumumba speak
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba (right) is pictured at a November 2022 press conference with Ted Henifin, the interim third-party manager of Jackson’s water system. Photo by Nick Judin

JXN Water sent the following statement to the Mississippi Free Press on Monday in response to the mayor’s initial comments:

“JXN Water is committed to meeting all requirements of the Interim Stipulated Order which include the requirement to: Regularly consult with the Director of Public Works on all aspects of complying with this Stipulated Order and advise, consult, and collaborate with the Director of Public Works and consult with EPA and MDEQ on matters that may, in the judgment of the ITPM, materially impact the Sewer System. The ITPM holds weekly meetings with the Director of Public Works as schedules permit. The Interim Stipulated Order has no similar requirement for regular meetings with the Mayor.”

At a Nov. 29, 2023 press conference Henifin said JXN Water had made “amazing strides” in its first year managing the system and asked residents for patience as JXN Water continues to repair the water infrastructure and educate the public about the City’s water system.

The 1% Sales Tax, Paving Neighborhood Streets

In 2014, Jackson residents voted overwhelmingly for a 1% sales tax increase for the City to use for repairing streets, reconstruction, traffic-pattern-based resurfacing projects, and the cost of water, sewer and drainage projects.

“From that (sales tax) we get approximately $13 million annually,” the mayor said Tuesday. He explained the City’s decision to use those funds to negotiate a bond to complete larger projects.

“What we did was the first ever leveraging of a 1% sales tax for a bond referendum. We took that $13 million that we were getting annually every year and went to banks and said, ‘Listen, if you can give us more money upfront, then we can show you a consistent line of funding that we can pay you back.’”

“They gave us $50 million on the front-end which allowed us to get creative in tackling these long-existing problem areas across our city,” he said.

Pictured is a 1% sales tax sign in Jackson, Miss. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

The City initially focused the efforts on repaving major thoroughfares like Riverside Drive, Northside Drive and Terry Road, the mayor said. “Now we’re turning our focus to neighborhood streets,” he explained, saying that the City has a list of streets scheduled for repavement starting in this spring.

When asked about the Commission’s process for deciding which neighborhood streets to pave first, the mayor said the City polled citizens from various neighborhood associations about which streets in their neighborhoods most needed repairs. The City then reviewed those suggestions and determined which projects to tackle first.

On Storm Drains, Creeks and Flooding

“Just like our road infrastructure, our storm drains (and) our creeks have not been addressed for decades. That means we have serious work to do,” the mayor said.

The mayor explained that the City utilizes its modernization tax, also called a use tax, to address the storm drain system. “By some formula, we now get money off of what Jacksonians buy online,” he said.

“Out of that utilization tax, we get in the neighborhood of about $10 million a year. Certain flood mitigation projects could cost about $10 million. That’s how severe many of these challenges are,” he said.

The City is now attempting to leverage those funds for a $30-million bond to address the issues, and his administration has hired an engineering firm to study the flooding issues that exist in communities across the city, the mayor said.

The mayor also spoke briefly about the need for zookeepers at the Jackson Zoo, damage to the city’s traffic signals, the Jackson Police Department and code enforcement on neglectful property owners.

Watch the full video of the mayor’s town hall address on the City of Jackson’s Facebook page.

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