Recreation talk hot topic at Q & A with mayor and aldermen

Published 10:31am Friday, July 18, 2014

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. called for more transparency with city finances and criticized the Warren County Board of Supervisors for its failure to cooperate with the city on recreation in a discussion about city government Thursday afternoon at the Vicksburg Senior Center.

“Every year, before we enter our budget sessions, the citizens of this community ought to know what we spent the year before. Every dime,” he said. “The budget is not complex to me, I’ve done an $80 million budget. But it ought to be like your checkbook. It ought to be so simple like ‘this is what I wrote the check for on that day and here is where it is posted,’ just like a spreadsheet.

“The people of this city deserve a spreadsheet,” he said.

Flaggs, Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson met with about 20 senior citizens to discuss the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s first year in office.

Flaggs’ comments on city finances and the county followed questions about city’s energy efficiency contract with Siemens Co., the sports complex, and the possibility of a bond issue for infrastructure improvement and/or a recreation complex, and included questions on whether the county would participate in a joint recreation program.

The board has asked the Warren County Board of Supervisors to discuss consolidating some services, including recreation. The supervisors so far have declined.

If county officials don’t want to work with the city, Flaggs said, Vicksburg would forge ahead without them.

“The future of Vicksburg does not depend on county government,” he said.

 

Looking at the other issues discussed Thursday:

• The board was unable to say how much the Siemens contract has so far saved the city.

The board in 2011 approved a contract with Siemens totaling $7.6 million to be paid over 15 years. The contract involved two projects — a $2.14 million project to make 44 of the city’s 50 building more energy efficient, and a $5.5 million project to install new digital water and gas meters for the city’s commercial customers.

Mayfield, who was on the board when the contract was approved, and Thompson, who was the director of TV23, the city’s television channel, said the city did not have current statistics showing how much the city has saved so far on utilities.

“On a project like that, it will take you about 10 years before you can get a look at the actual real savings,” Thompson, who represents the South Ward, said.

In a related topic, Flaggs said $1 million in natural gas fees have been recovered through the installation of new meters. He said the city was losing 23 percent of the gas it provides to customers at a cost of $3 million. He said an earlier survey of the city’s gas system indicated some commercial customers never had gas meters.

The Board earlier this month hired the Jackson engineering firm Allen and Honshall to study the city’s utilities and look at its rate structure.

• Mayfield said the ad hoc committee on recreation appointed in June is looking at the city’s recreation program, adding it was instructed not to examine locations for a possible complex. The committee is examining the feasibility of a new sports complex for the city, and has talked with representatives from two cities with new complexes.

The committee is expected to deliver a report on its findings on Dec. 31.

He indicated the city is moving very carefully on the recreation issue.

Several residents asked about the potential of a bond issue to build a new complex. The city is considering a possible bond issue for a capital improvements project, which currently does not include plans for a recreation complex.

Flaggs said the board would have a better picture of its finances after it restructures the city’s debt. The city on June 30 received an A2 bond rating from Moody’s Investment Services, a New York-based provider of credit ratings and risk analysis, which will help it float a bond if necessary, at a low interest rate.

If the city is to move forward and make the infrastructure improvements it needs, he said, a bond issue would be necessary.

“You can’t expect the improvements you’re looking for in the community based on the general fund. It’s not there,” he said.

Flaggs supports letting residents decide whether they want a bond issue, “but I am not going to commit to a vote. There’s a lot of ways you can find out (what the people want) and not take a vote.

“There are sometimes when you start having an election and it impedes progress. You’re going to have to trust us on some things,” he said.

• Thompson was asked why he had two assistants in his office, when Alderman Sid Beauman had only one. When he took office, Thompson kept Sue Roberts, Beauman’s administrative assistant, and in June hired Danita Reed, who worked in the Vicksburg Police Department’s community relations division and transferred to his office. Thompson said he needed both employees to help him represent the South Ward, which includes about 10,000 people.

“I did not hire anyone new,” he said. “Both were already on the city’s payroll.

Flaggs said he voted for the move, adding, “I would do it again.”

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