By JACK WEATHERLY
Jackson ranks 101st on WalletHub’s annual survey of best- and worst-run cities in the United States for 2018.
The city ranked 149th in last year’s report.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in an interview on Tuesday that he is encouraged by the survey. The city faces several major problems, including streets, water system and billing and the public school system.
At 101st, its overall ranking is actually higher than several bustling municipalities in the region – Nashville, 111; Memphis, 135, and Atlanta, 137. Gulfport ranked 146th overall.
The current survey covers the years 2013 to 2018. The survey issued last year covered 2010 to 2017.
Lumumba, who took office on July 3, 2017, said that he is encouraged by progress that the survey reflects.
He also noted that his administration “inherited” the problems with which it is dealing.
“I’m blessed that I have the team that has the acumen to do the job but also the passion to do the job.”
“While we are encouraged by our progress, we are not satisfied. I want to improve that quality of service ranking,” he said.
The city ranks 149th (of 150) on quality of services, but its per capita spending, No. 29, raises its overall ranking to 101.
“Jackson’s 29th rank in the ‘Total Budget per Capita’ section definitely reflects the fact that local authorities are managing resources well, and it helped boost the city’s overall position,” Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst, said in an email.
Jon Pritchett, president and chief executive of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, said in an email that the study is “comprehensive and the rankings of the individual categories appear to make sense in terms of weighting and detail of categories.”
However, the computing of overall ranking “is not really an accurate portrait of what the data says,” Pritchett said. “The cities that spend less per capita have a major advantage in the overall rankings as a result of the formula. As much as I love to see efficient use of public dollars and fewer dollars spent per capita, I’m not sure the ‘overall rankings’ here are as valuable as the individual category rankings are in terms of getting an accurate picture of a city.”
The Mississippi capital’s population continues to shrink, losing residents (and businesses) to other cities in the metropolitan area and elsewhere – thus shrinking its tax base and leaving it less to spend on governmental needs.
The city’s population in 1990 was 196,637, compared with 166,965 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Meantime, the Jackson metropolitan statistical area, composed of Hinds, Madison, Rankin, Simpson and Copiah counties, had a population of 395,396 in 1990, compared with 586,775 in 2017.
The quality of services score is derived from 35 weighted indicators in six categories – financial stability, education, health, safety, economy and infrastructure and pollution.
Here is Jackson’s score in each of the six categories:
» Finances: 147th. Includes Moody’s City Credit Rating, 132nd, (two-thirds of the weight) and long-term debt per capita, 44th.
» Education: 127th. A combination of K-12 school system quality, which is 101st, combined with the high school graduation rate, 124th.
» Health: 131st. Composed of infant mortality, 122nd; hospital beds per capita, 11th, and quality of the public hospital system, 39th.
» Safety: 137th: Primarily reflects violent crime (one fourth of the weight), 103rd; and property crime (one-fourth), 101st, vehicular fatalities per capita, 142nd; percentage of sheltered homeless, 107th; average commute time, 37th; traffic congestion, 13th, and walkability, 142nd.
» Economy: 137th, with 10 factors not dominated by any one of them.
» Infrastructure and pollution: 124th. Determined primarily by quality of roads, 96th, to which is added, to a lesser degree, to commute times. Pollution is determined by water quality, air quality and green space.
As mentioned, Jackson has more than its share of major problems.
The school system – which was found to be in violation of 24 of 32 standards – is on probation and runs the risk of losing its control to the state. However, an agreement with Gov. Phil Bryant and Lumumba has forestalled that thus far as the city seeks corrections in several categories.
Street conditions are a continuing problem, with a plethora of potholes.
The water system is subject to frequent outages because of underground pipe breakages, prompting loss of service and sometimes boil-water notices. Meanwhile the city’s water billing system is still fraught with glitches.
Problems sometimes work together to bedevil the city, such as when the schools were shut down for several days in January because of water outages.
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