State singles out Jackson for extra oversight of its COVID relief funds

·3 min read

The legislature, in a last-minute move, imposed extra state oversight of Jackson's American Rescue Plan Act funds used for water and sewer projects.

No other city in Mississippi will receive the same scrutiny from the state's Department of Finance and Administration. Jackson also runs the risk of losing ARPA funds from the state if they are not spent by Jan. 1, 2027, a deadline no other city faces.

Mississippi received $1.8 billion allocation from ARPA, which the legislature decided how to allocate in the most recent session. The money can be used for infrastructure projects.

Cites and counties also received funds directly from the federal act. Jackson received $42 million in ARPA funds and plans to use $25 million of that money for water and sewer infrastructure.

A woman walks past as water from an apparent burst water pipe bubbles a constant stream of water on Quinn Street on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
A woman walks past as water from an apparent burst water pipe bubbles a constant stream of water on Quinn Street on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.

Senate Bill 2822 allows cities to apply for a one-to-one match for water and sewer projects paid for with their own ARPA funds. Smaller municipalities that received less than $1 million in direct ARPA funds can request a two-to-one match.

Hinds County plans to transfer $5 to $8 million of its own ARPA allocation to the City of Jackson for pipe projects in south Jackson. The city can also request a one-to-one match for the money from Hinds County, so potentially Jackson could receive up to an additional $33 million from the state.

The Legislature also established a special designated fund for Jackson's water and sewer needs with House Bill 1031, which was authored by Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Hinds. The original plan was to provide Jackson with an additional $42 in ARPA funds beyond what it might receive the state's matching funds.

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The companion bill, HB 1064, that would have allocated $42 million to the dedicated fund, however, died in committee. The legislature adjourned without sending money to the dedicated fund.

"I was very disheartened by the city not being able to get the funding that it needs from the state now," said Charles Williams, Jackson's city engineer.

Jackson Public Works Director Charles Williams speaks to the requirements needed for completing a staffing plan for the city's Water Department, as Jackson works on meeting the first round of deadlines laid out in an agreement with the U.S. government on how to improve the quality of drinking water in the Capital City, Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Jackson, Miss.
Jackson Public Works Director Charles Williams speaks to the requirements needed for completing a staffing plan for the city's Water Department, as Jackson works on meeting the first round of deadlines laid out in an agreement with the U.S. government on how to improve the quality of drinking water in the Capital City, Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Jackson, Miss.

A final change to SB2822 said that "any funds awarded to the City of Jackson under this section shall be deposited in the Capital City Water/Sewer Projects Fund of the State Treasury."

That is the fund that was established by HB1031. Money in that fund is overseen by the Department of Finance and Administration. Any money in that fund not spent by Jan. 1, 2027 reverts to the state's general fund.

"Jackson will have to race through the process just to make sure projects can get from design to implement," said Quincy Mukoro, a legislative lobbyist for Jackson, in an email.

Other cities in Mississippi will not be subject to that oversight nor will they risk losing ARPA funds not spent over the next five years.

"This is not the outcome many of us wanted, but it is what the end result was after much push back about setting aside more than a dollar-for-dollar match for Jackson," said Yates in an email.

News tips? Story ideas? Questions? Call reporter Todd Price at 504-421-1542 or email him at taprice@gannett.com. Sign up for The American South newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Jackson misses out on water and sewer funding