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Henifin outlines fiscal plan for Jackson water system

WAPT Jackson 1/27/2023 Ross Adams and Angela Williams
ted henifin © WAPT ted henifin

What's next for Jackson's water system? Ted Henifin, the man who was appointed to oversee the system, provided an overview Friday of the fiscal plan.

The 30-page plan outlines the equitable standards, timeline, budget and strategic actions aimed at improving the city's water infrastructure and customer experience.

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Henifin was appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee reforms to the city's water system. As part of the order, Henifin was given 60 days to formulate the financial management plan, which he released to the public Friday.

Repeated breakdowns have caused many in the city of about 150,000 to go days and weeks at a time without safe running water.

"We know we haven't solved this and we're a long way to solving this, so it's going to take a while," Henifin said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but we're moving forward."

Because of the city's history of challenges with water meters, Henifin said he doubts he can rebuild confidence in a metering system. Instead, he proposes billing based on assessed value. For homeowners, that means a median single-family residence for water and sewer would pay about $50 a month. The cap, which would be at an assessed value of $160,000 and higher, would be at about $150.

For commercial/industrial, it would be $600 a month.

"For some, it will be high, but for many, it will be low," Henifin said. "We know we can generate the revenue we need with this particular model."

Henifin said the assessment plan will generate $20 million a year in capital improvements money year after year.

The city's water system debt is also addressed in the plan. Henifin said the debt is currently $23 million a year.

"This debt is killing us," Henifin said. "It only costs about $50 million a year to run the system — water and sewer both. Then we need another $23 million to handle our debt."

Henifin said some of the federal funding the city will receive can be used to retire that debt. He said when all the funding sources are tallied, they add up to about $1 billion.

"We're planning on using $290 million of that to take all this debt out," Henifin said.

Henifin said the one-time expenditure leaves enough money to repair and improve Jackson's water system. But to do that, the city needs to generate revenue. Henifin said it can be done with the elimination of the metering system in favor of the assessment plan.

While a lot of progress has been made, Henifin said the system is still fragile.

"I've got to tell you, I could walk out of here right now and lose the system. It's that tenuous," Henifin said. "In 60 days, we've done a lot to improve this system, but it might fail tomorrow. It's going to take a little while to get there."

Henifin said public hearings will be held to provide information and answer questions about the plan.

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