- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Jackson City Council is borrowing $11 million for water treatment improvements, but a member of an oversight commission said the city can’t repay the loan using sales tax money without that panel’s OK.

The city plans to use the emergency loan to fund improvements to both of the city’s water treatment plants as well as the replacement of older cast iron pipes throughout the city. Council members wanted assurance that the loan would be paid back through that special fund and that it would be recorded as such in the city’s finances.

The Clarion-Ledger (http://on.thec-l.com/24u9Spq ) reports Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber says the City Council has authority to approve spending from the sales tax fund.

“The buck still stops with you,” Yarber told council members. “To some degree the commission is acting like the council, when ultimately that’s not the way that that’s supposed to work, and we’re going to fix that.”

But Infrastructure Sales Tax Commission member Pete Perry said that money can only be spent on projects approved by the state panel and that council can’t obligate that money until the commission signs off.

“That’s not the way the Legislature allowed them to collect this tax,” Perry said.

Perry said the city recommended to the commission two years ago that it not prioritize water and sewer projects because the city has a separate revenue stream for those projects. He also said the commission has never discussed using 1 percent money to replace water pipes, which is what this loan would do.

State lawmakers created the commission to oversee spending of a 1-penny sales tax approved by Jackson voters to fix dilapidated road, water and sewer systems.

Yarber said he hopes to present a master plan to the commission in coming weeks.

“That’s the issue with the commission, because there’s this idea that the commission is responsible for approving gobs of money at a time, and that’s wrong,” Yarber said. “The commission’s only role is to approve a master plan.”

Councilman Melvin Priester, who also questioned the mayor about repaying the loan, said the city must accept the loan to make crucial improvements to its water system and that since the city is on a deadline, the details about how it will be repaid should be fleshed out later.

Priester called the legislation regarding the extent of the authority of the commission vague, but said he doesn’t mind sharing authority with some members.

“Sometimes, more eyes are better,” Priester said.

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This story has been corrected to show Pete Perry is a member of the commission, not the chairman.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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