Yarber attempts to allay fears over city budget woes at public forum

The mayor with Pastor Arthur Sutton of Progressive Missionary Baptist Church

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer

The mayor with Pastor Arthur Sutton of Progressive Missionary Baptist Church

Justin Bruce, director of innovation and performance for the City welcomed a crowd of several hundred last Thursday evening, Aug. 27, to a public forum in which Mayor Tony Yarber discussed his plans to deal with the $15 million budget deficit for the city’s FY 2015-2016 budget year.

The public forum was held at Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, located at 2323 Powers Avenue, and is overseen by Pastor Arthur Sutton.

“This is probably the most engaged that I’ve seen the public in this process,” said the mayor. He then praised department heads “who’ve made it possible for the meeting.” He was joined by other city officials, including Chief of Police Lee Vance.

Bent on making sure the city does not go bankrupt, the mayor posed want he considered a comprehensive “balanced,” “responsible” budget that would allow Jackson to boast of “financial stability.” And it “would not include a tax increase,” “would not risk the services of the Jackson Police Department or the Jackson Fire Department,” and “would not sacrifice our losing our zoo.”

In the proposal for the “bold new city,” the mayor yearns for: 1) increase in fines for traffic violations; 2) increased charge for cars kept in the city impound lot; 3) large increase in room rental fee at Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center ($750 rather than $93 for four hours); 4) to avoid employee layoffs, initiate a furlough of city workers one Friday of each month (to produce an estimated annual savings of $4.9 million); and 5) a hiring freeze.

City Council members have presented an alternative to the mayor’s recommendations, particularly regarding furlough of city workers vs cutting persons from the city’s payroll all together. It can be viewed in its entirety at www.jacksonms.gov under city council agenda and meetings.

Yarber provided a historical account of the budget woes. “We did not wake up to a $15 million deficit. We started telling the truth about our budget. If we had not pulled the covers off, you would not understand why we have been going through some of the things we’ve been going through,” he told the citizens.

Department heads, according to the mayor, were told to use the 2014 budget as their cap to prioritize their programs by determining what was necessary for services. “The goal was to have a balanced budget to keep the city out of trouble. There was a recommendation to freeze positions and to include whether or not to continue certain services,” said Yarber. Also, heads were asked to find an additional 2 percent to cut back from their budgets.

The mayor acknowledged that he yielded to Jacksonians for rejecting his proposal to increase taxes, despite their having paid higher taxes in the 2014 budget. Nevertheless, he disclosed that he would submit a final draft to the City Council for adoption by September 15.

The forum’s question/answer session revealed opportunity for Yarber to mention that the city is going to a once-a-week garbage collection. “We’ll have a recycle pickup and a garbage pickup. You’ll still be getting two days. One is a recycle day and one is pickup day,” he said.

Yarber also appeared to uplift the spirit of the audience when he talked about “a side lot program opportunity:” “We tell everybody we’re getting ready to take requests from folks to purchase the lot next door to them. We’re trying to get the lot into the hands of the people to take care of and to pay taxes.” He quickly explained, however, that only persons living in Jackson would be allowed to purchase such lots.

A public hearing on the budget is slated  in the City Council chambers in city hall for Thursday, September 3, at 6 p.m.

For additional information, visit www.jacksonms.gov or call 601-960-1111.

Mayor Tony Yarber at the public forum held at Progressive Baptist Church. PHOTOS BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT
Mayor Tony Yarber at the public forum held at Progressive Baptist Church. PHOTOS BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT