City Council approves JTA funding, moves forward with Jackson Plaza contract

The Jackson Transit Authority is based on Eutah St., near the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex. They have eight routes and run Monday through Saturday. (Julia Ewoldt// The Jackson Post)

The Jackson City Council approved a $540,000 budget request for Jackson Transit Authority on its first reading in the April City council meeting. The request is to fund the transit service for the rest of the fiscal year, after a budgeting error meant they may have to cut service. 

Most of the money JTA is requesting is a match for a Federal grant, which the City would need to pay half.

While there was not much discussion during the city council meeting, many of the city council members were made aware of the issue during the Agenda Review meeting, the Thursday night prior.

“They’ve already spent [the money], so we’re going to take care of that, or we need to. Then, we’re talking about monthly reporting. So will we have a clearer picture if we’re looking at them monthly?” Councilmember Marda Wallace (Dist. 7) asked during the Agenda Review meeting.

Councilmember Paul Taylor (Dist. 6) said JTA has been asked to provide monthly reports, but has not complied yet.

“They have been told by their auditor that they are not responsible for that,” Taylor said during the Agenda Review, “So there is some confusion that needs to be ironed out.”

He also said JTA is now required to submit a budget to the City Council by the end of April, and has been asked to be clear on what their needs are. 

Lauren Kirk, Chief Innovation Officer for the City, stepped in to remind the council their contract with First Transit, which manages JTA, has changed to month-to-month, rather than annual. 

“You’re over budget. You overprojected your ridership,” Councilmember Sam Turner (Dist. 1) said to JTA General Manager Travis Franklin. 

“That may be the case. But again, we are going to be in a deficit if we don’t get the funding from either side,” Franklin responded. 

“Regardless, this would have a tremendously negative impact on a number of households and families, should operations be disrupted for even a short time. You would hurt people,” Councilmember Russ McKelvey (Dist. 8) said.

The council approved the budget request 9-0. The request will still need to be approved on a second reading. Budget hearings for the City of Jackson are expected to be held at the end of April.

City Council approves Jackson Plaza contract

The Jackson City Council approved the contract with LRK Architects to study the Jackson Plaza site and Old Hickory sub-areas. LRK will be studying the feasibility of building a convention center and other attractions on the site.

The City Council voted to table the contract during the March meeting for two concerns. The first was whether to add a provision to approve each of the five tasks individually. The second was the addition of a program manager to the project. 

During the April meeting, LRK confirmed each task will be approved individually by the council. 

Councilmembers also asked about the program manager, who was taken off the contract: Tina Mercer with Infinite Consulting. The cost would have totaled $22,000. 

The program manager position was added on top of the $289,000 contract with LRK. Victor Buchholz, with LRK, said this was to be transparent about the cost.

During an interview, Mayor Scott Conger said LRK asked for Mercer to be contracted. He also said she was taken out of the contract because the City does not have the money. 

“I told Vic we didn’t have the money for it,” Conger said, “That’s basically it. I think he requested to add her on because they’re a Memphis based company. I think she’s had a relationship with them. 

“So when Zack (Director of Purchasing) brought that up, I said he can add her on, and send it to Council. They can decide what they want to do with it. And then they decided they didn’t want to do it. So I told Vic this is the budget, they’re not going to amend the budget, you need to adjust it to fit the budget.”

Buchholz said they would like to have her on the contract, to be a liaison between their firm and the steering committee in Jackson.

Richard Donnell (Dist. 3) asked if the position is critical to the project. 

“I think it is, I think it’s important. It helps us really get where we need to be. It’s just part of the process,” Victor Buchholz, with LRK said. “We’re sort of saying that it makes our life easier if we can have somebody here that is our ‘boots on the ground.’ So in that sense, it’s critical to have. If we didn’t have somebody here, we would do that from our offices, we would require a little more travel and things like that.”

Mercer, owner of Infinite Consulting, worked on the Jackson Walk redesign and is involved in the Oman Arena plan. She is also President of the Jackson-Madison Co. Education Foundation, and has hosted campaign events for Mayor Scott Conger both in this campaign and in 2019 when he first ran for Mayor. 

“We’ve got a long term relationship with Tina. She’s here on the ground,” Buchholz said. 

Conger then said the City Council can go back later and add a program manager if they feel the role is necessary.

“We don’t want to delay this another month on this one piece,” Conger said.

The City Council voted 7-2 to move forward with the contract. Tara Skinner (Dist. 4) and Paul Taylor abstained from voting.

Council approves new chicken ordinance

The City Council approved an amendment to the City Codes, allowing residents to be permitted to own chickens, with rules. 

The main change in the codes is to clarify how far a chicken coop needs to be from the owner’s neighbors. The old code said a coop needs to be 250 ft. away from a neighbor, but it didn’t specify if that meant a building or property line.

The new code says a chicken coop must be at least 250 ft. away from a neighbor’s property line. 

“That’s 250 ft. from the center, so your lot has to be 500 ft. by 500 ft. You will have to have a five-acre lot to be able to have chickens,” Paul Taylor clarified after the meeting. 

Chicken owners are asked to contact the Jackson Animal Care Center if they have any questions. Enforcement on this code will be made by complaint only. 

Questions about pensions will be heard in second reading

The City Council deferred public comment on code changes to the City Pension System to the second reading. The pension board said this should affect 17 former employees or spouses. However, if someone has questions about the changes, they are asked to come to the May City Council meeting. 

Julia Ewoldt,