It Is Still In Our Hands to Save our City

I want to thank the Jackson Advocate for giving me an opportunity to discuss the condition of the City of Jackson in light of the numerous challenges we face both fiscally and to the very sovereignty of the City.

I will not sugarcoat the situation. The City of Jackson is in a tough situation financially.

Let me make something absolutely clear, however, we are not bankrupt.

The City, like the average working man or woman in America, has had to do more each day despite income that has remained flat and while expenses such as infrastructure costs were increasing. To make ends meet, we have relied heavily on our savings from past years and trying to limit expenses. There are two types of savings accounts for us. The first is called “unrestricted general fund balance.” This is the amount of cash we have left over after our expenses each year. The second type of savings is an emergency reserve. The City has an ordinance that requires us to always keep 7.5% of our expected revenue from things like property taxes and sales taxes in a reserve account. This is our rainy day or emergency fund.

When the City approved its budget for this current year in September 2015, all the numbers showed that we had a few million dollars remaining in our unrestricted general fund balance as well as the full 7.5% reserve of approximately $9 million. This week, it has become apparent that because of cost overruns last year, the City has had to exhaust the unrestricted general fund balance and dip into its 7.5% emergency fund.

That is bad news and we are still investigating why that occurred and why we are only learning of this now when more than half of the fiscal year is over.

Despite this bad news, however, dipping into our reserves is very different than being broke or bankrupt. Although I am greatly displeased with this discovery, we’ve caught it now rather than at the end of the fiscal year. We have the opportunity now to tighten our belt, have better financial oversight, and revise the budget for this year before we fall any further behind due to last year’s over run. Some people will be angry when we don’t issue contracts with the ease we have done in the past. Deals where we have had two or three firms make a team will become deals with only one law firm or engineering firm. I expect to receive no help from the State of Mississippi.

In fact, ny the time this is published, you will probably already be aware of the threat by some in the State Legislature to use this situation as a basis to take over Jackson by appointing a conservator. Although the governor dismisses that possibility, I intend to give that crowd no further ammunition against us. It is critical for Jackson’s leadership to turn a new leaf.

Personally, I think we can turn this ship around. We’re all frustrated right now but we’re not broke. Frankly, I’m glad we are addressing the budget like this now because if we had waited until the summer as we usually do, we would be in an even worse condition. It’s clear we have had to dip into our reserve. That should not have happened and we should have been notified without delay. But it’s happened because expenses for FY15 weren’t calculated or tracked right last year.

At the end of the day, our margin of error is thinner than its ever been but the City remains solvent. Pray the creek don’t rise in the meanwhile as we focus on finding ways to limit City spending even further by more professional management and stricter oversight. Jackson, we’re about to face a lot of very unpleasant choices, but we do have options. More importantly, I’m not going to let the legislature take Jackson without doing everything in my power to save our city.

By: Melvin Priester, Jr.