JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Before federal COVID funds can be allocated as temporary pay increases for some police and firefighters, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said they must bring someone on board to administer and monitor those funds.
“We have somebody that we’re going to put up for a contract to do that,” Lumumba said during Monday’s press briefing. “We have to fully understand what it is going to take to administer [and check] to make sure the city is using its funds in accord with the federal guidelines.”
The mayor told council members on Sept. 13 that he had already identified someone for the role but did not present any information before the council in the seven public meetings that have taken place since.
Tuesday’s regular council meeting has no mention of any contract related to the American Rescue Plan Act on the agenda.
Lumumba said he plans to present a contract to the council for approval soon.
His frustration comes from using federal dollars to fix a problem he had hoped to solve with a tax increase.
Last month, the administration tried to push a one-mill increase, but the item was killed on a unanimous vote.
A one-mill increase would have equated to a $12 property tax hike each year for someone whose home is valued at $100,000.
More than a week later, the council approved setting aside $5.7 million in ARPA dollars to be used for a pay increase, which would have to be called ‘premium pay.’
“To stay in compliance with the federal guidelines, we must be able to demonstrate how the increases of the premium pay are connected in response to COVID-19,” Lumumba said. “If we fail to do that, if we just issue or allocate money without being able to demonstrate that which we subject ourselves to, is to be penalized as a city and unable, unable to receive federal funding in the future.”
The ARPA money, which would increase JPD corporals and JFD lieutenant salaries to $45,000 a year and JPD sergeants/JFD captains to $48,000 a year, is also a temporary fix.
The money can’t be used after 2024.
Word of those delayed salary bumps spread like wildfire in the Jackson Fire Department, with the union’s president criticizing Fire Chief Willie Owens for not doing enough.
“The fire chief actually came under storm for making comments that I think now ring true. What he said was, is that if we choose to give money to only certain divisions, that he would find a morale problem amongst his ranks,” Lumumba said. “And he was villainized for that as if he was not concerned about pay raises for his firefighters. He was simply trying to apprise us of the fact that you may find other challenges with those decisions.”
Lumumba did not say specifically how long it would take to implement that pay boost but stressed that it was important and urgent to get it done quickly.
“As soon as we possibly can. There is no benefit to us not giving them their money,” Lumumba said. “But what we have to do is make certain that we don’t put the city in greater harm, right? And so I don’t think that we would be crossing this bridge if we would have looked to give them actual pay raises instead of a stipend.”
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