JACKSON- Many Jacksonians and visitors are asking “When will the roads be fixed?,” and Jackson Mayor, Tony Yarber said it’s not as simple as it looks.
There are three entities in place to monitor the funds brought in by the one-cent sales tax. Those include a sales tax commission, the Jackson City Council, and the Mayor himself. But he also says the public can have access to those records through their website.
On January 26, 2017 Mayor Yarber kicked off the multi-million dollar paving project to resurface the City of Jackson’s most-traveled streets. Yarber along with the one-percent commission, Public Works Director Jerriot Smash and other officials joined on Gallatin Street, which will be the first street to be paved by Superior Asphalt for under $4.5 million.
The Major Streets Project is part of the Infrastructure Master Plan and component of Operation Orange Cone.
Currently, an account to improve infrastructure in Jackson is funded by the one-cent sales tax, or penny tax as Yarber referred to it.
“It comes from certain sales, certain items within the city,” said Yarber. “We have the opportunity based on some legislation to see that one-cent sales tax come in probably for the next 15-16 years.”
“The paving of Jackson’s busiest streets is not only important to residents who drive along the roadways, but it is also integral to the continued progress and economic development in the City,” said Yarber.
A common misconception is that a large portion of that sales tax revenue comes from tourism and hotels within the Capitol city, but actually that is a burden of city residents. Right now Jackson is averaging about $13 million dollars a year.
“The confusing thing about the one-cent sales tax is the misunderstanding that it will cure all,” said Yarber.
Currently $40 million has been collected through the one-cent tax and $32 million obligated for infrastructure. With numbers that high, and potholes still in the road, many are asking is the city actually fixing the problem?
Yarber said yes, but it isn’t just about repaving the roads.
“The one-cent sales tax covers not just streets, but water lines, drainage, bridges, sewer,”said Yarber.
Yarber proposed a hypothetical drainage project (referencing the Fortification Street project) on the yearly average revenue brought in by the tax of $13 million.
Here were the figures he proposed:
Hypothetical Water Project for a main road:
- Multiple water projects throughout the road averaging $1.2 million for design and construction
- In total low-ball figure of $10 million
So far, only $3 million left in yearly revenue fund
Hypothetical Drainage Project for a main road:
- Just design, not including construction, for 4-5 projects a low-ball cost of $500,000.
- Water and drainage now equaling close to $10.5 million and talks about resurfacing, bridges, and sewers have not even begun.
“The fact that there is a one-cent sales tax is deceptive at best, that you’re going to have the opportunity to see substantial work done,” said Yarber. “So what we have been able to do is to look at how can we create an opportunity to see what has been spent but making sure we are taking care of first things first.”
Yarber said the infrastructure issue, in terms of symptomatic is streets, but that the actual issue is the underground structure. This includes waterlines that are aged and decaying. He said 40 percent of treated water is being lost before even making it to homes.
“You’ve got a perfect storm that you’re trying to fix with $13 million dollars,” said Yarber.
He said the current practice of his administration is to leverage some of that money or use some of it as matching funds. The city has already assisted Hinds County with some resurfacing efforts through providing a $600,000 match for some roads that were resurfaced in the city.
Other funds will be matched with the Tiger Grant that the city received that will go towards the North State Street and West County Line Road project.
Yarber says in the future they hope to leverage the financial market for a $80-$90 million dollar deal so that people can see a robust amount of work happening in the city at one time. That means that the focus as the this time right now is smaller projects before taking on larger issues.
“We can’t heal the city with $13 million bucks a year, especially when you talk about a city that has not looked at infrastructure as a major issue. It’s not just this city, it’s a nationwide issue,” said Yarber.
Infrastructure is not just a Jackson or Mississippi issue, it is something states across the country are battling.
“Infrastructure is kind of like this, it’s always a problem you can’t see but when you finally do see it, that means the sky is usually falling,” said Yarber. “We made this a priority, before I took office no one was even talking about infrastructure.”
Right now the one-cent sales tax is controlled by a commission committee that was a requirement of the legislation that put the tax in place. The commission provides oversight on finances and approving a master plan.
Yarber said that the proposed “20 Year Master Plan” has not been approved yet, instead the commission has been approving in phases. Yarber said that is not in the best interest of the city.
“I think the best thing to have happen is to do what the legislation said and approve a master plan. That gives a chance for the public works team, program manager, and Jackson city council to move work forward.”
Jackson currently has two contracts out for infrastructure work. One is with APAC, who is responsible for working with project Operation Orange Cone, targeting smaller, neighborhood roads around the city. So far they have given attention to over 60 streets in 5 wards and are currently working in Ward 6 and 7.
However, Yarber said they are rethinking the plan to move forward as effectively as possible.
Superior Asphalt has begun work on Gallatin Street after a stall on the expected fall start date. The city can expect to see work done on six to seven roads under this contract. Yarber said he would prefer it to be done all at once.
“My frustration lies at the deployment of the work. We’ve got six or seven streets that need to be taken care off and I would love to see those streets being taken care of all at once but I think what we will be seeing with deployment is seeing one or two streets taken care of at a time,” said Yarber.
Yarber said as the city moves forward he hopes that committee members, city council, and residents look at the big picture and continue working together to fix the cities infrastructure.