City uses ARPA funds to match state grant for water and sewer

When discussion during a Jackson City Council meeting turned to how much funding the city has remaining from its federal COVID-19 relief funds, Virgi Lindsay of Ward 7 provided an answer.

Lindsay explained during the Sept. 15 meeting that by her calculations about $35 million remains, provided two projects the council had not voted on dropped off the list of those being funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

One project is the Farish Street Soul City Market, a potential food court at the corner of Amite and Farish streets, which was on the city’s ARPA Strategic Expenditure Plan to receive $4 million. The Jackson Redevelopment Authority proposed the Farish Street Soul City Market to revitalize the Farish Street Historic District in downtown Jackson

Another project was a capital infrastructure investment identified as the former Batte Furniture building, which was on the city’s ARPA Strategic Expenditure Plan to receive $3.9 million. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba would like to purchase and renovate the former Batte Furniture building on Northside Drive as a library and possible location for Precinct 4.

After a month-long water crisis that affected residents, schools and businesses throughout the city, drew national media attention and received attention from President Biden to Gov. Tate Reeves and other state leaders, the council voted to commit its remaining ARPA funds to water and sewer improvements.

The council heeded the advice of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann who urged city leaders to use its remaining ARPA funding to take advantage of a state grant program that would provide matching funds for eligible water and sewer improvements. 

Using Lindsay’s calculation of $35 million and depending upon the outcome of the grant program, the city could double that and end up with $70 million for water and sewer improvements. Estimates are it would take up to $170 million for the city to comply with federal order governing the water system.

The Mississippi Municipality & County Water Infrastructure Grant Program, established by Senate Bill 2822, provides $450 million that municipalities, counties, rural water associations and utility authorities throughout the state can apply for and use to match funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality began accepting applications for that program on September 1.

The legislation establishing the grant program requires the city of Jackson to account with the Department of Finance and Administration to make sure funds received are used as intended. Jackson is the only municipality with such oversight for the funding it receives.

The city received a total of $42 million in ARPA funds and has already used $1 million to cover utilities and other expenses for the Jackson Convention Complex; $250,000 for the Bean Path, a tech district that would revitalize North Gallatin Street, $200,000 for a donation to the Jackson State Foundation; $7.7 million for a 48-inch water transmission line to improve water flow in south Jackson and other neighborhoods and $1.8 million for a sanitary sewer evaluation.

Allocations include $300,000 for a consultant to manage the funds; $2.8 million for premium pay for the Jackson Police Department; $2.8 million for premium pay for the Jackson Fire Department; $950,000 for technical assistance at the water treatment plants; $2.2 million for water/sewer fund balancing; $6.5 million for water distribution system improvements; $5.9 for wastewater treatment projects; and $1.3 million for water/sewer contingency.

Lindsay said the council is trying to determine if there’s room in the general fund so that the $1.3 million allocated for water/sewer contingency wouldn’t have to come from ARPA funds. If so, that would free up that amount for the dollar-for-dollar match from the grant program, she said.

Hosemann has also asked the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to use some of its ARPA funds to help the city of Jackson. 

Supervisor Robert Graham, who represents District One, proposed a motion to do that but it failed to win approval during the board’s meeting on Sept. 12.

“My motion was to take $19.5 million and designate it to the city of Jackson for the O.B. Curtis Water Plant to improve the water quality at the plant for the citizens of the city of Jackson,” he said, noting that the $19.5 million could have possibly been matched dollar for dollar and become $39 million, provided the outcome of the grant program.

Exactly how the county will help the city hasn’t been decided. Some supervisors want funds to go to repair the city’s aged water pipes and install a new water tower.

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