Lemuel, thanks for your comments on this post. You raise a lot of interesting points.
From an infrastructure asset management point of view there are two parts to the question about how to go forward – first, developing long term expenditure requirements for the infrastructure, and second, developing a plan to fund that expenditure.
As you observed rightly, when a city tax base is declining funding infrastructure expenditure becomes more and more difficult.
Inframanage.com has been following what has occurred in Detroit, which is an extreme example of this – city population declined by 50% from a peak in the mid 1970’s, and as the city struggled to pay for services, population left to the surrounding counties/suburbs – and services continued to decline. This cycle repeated several times, until the recent bankruptcy.
Detroit has a long way to go to come back from that, but at least it is now making some progress. So what about Jackson?
Our original blog post concentrated on Mayor Yarber’s attempts to gain emergency funding for infrastructure projects. I note from an April 23 Jackson Free Press article that Mayor Yarber has failed to get his Council to back his plans for emergency declarations.
However, he has succeeded in engaging citizens, the Council, and no doubt, state and federal agencies in a discussion around the topic.
In reading your points, and looking into the subject a little more, I noted that Jackson’s population has been declining slowly, and in the period from the 1980 census to 2013 has lost about 30,000 (17%) population.
This will of course have impacted various markets in the city over that period, including housing, businesses, and ultimately the tax base that is available to pay for infrastructure and other services.
How to turn this about?
Well that is ultimately the multi-billion dollar question, and one that troubles many more cites across the world, not just Jackson.
The growth and decline of cities is a very complex subject, which includes a mix of economy, jobs, location, demography, resources, security, livability, infrastructure provision, water resources, services, affordability, and connectedness. It is a extremely complex and there is plenty that could be added to that list.
Despite the promises of politicians the world over, it is not at all easy to remedy when decline sets in, and usually there are no easy fixes. There is a whole field of study on shrinking cities and towns, as it is occurring across the western world, although approximately 25% of all recorded cases worldwide are in the USA.
Coming back specifically to infrastructure asset management, which is Inframanage.com’s expertise – managing a city decline or slow shrinking is the hardest scenario to manage in this field.
There are no easy answers, but many risks – including over-investment, which an eroding tax base will struggle to pay for going forward. This is particularly problematic for water, wastewater, and stormwater utility infrastructure, which is expensive to build, and has relatively long lives – pipes 100 years plus, dependent on the pipe material used.
What will Jackson be like in 20 years, 50 years, 100 years? What will the population be? Where will they live? What will the economy be like? These are the questions to answer in the long term management of infrastructure and provision of services.
More immediately, how is Jackson going to fund necessary work on water infrastructure, in addition to the $400 million federal wastewater consent decree?
There are no easy answers to these questions.
The current political discussion between Mayor Yarber, his Council and the citizens of Jackson is part of the path toward getting direction and resolution on these issues.
PHOTO CREDIT: Visit Mississippi via Creative Commons License. The photo has been modified to fit website requirement.