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City says most projects complete

Ten years after an annexation nearly tripled Vicksburg’s size, most residents in the city’s new territory have a full range of city services, from patrolling police cars to municipal sewage lines.

But a few, most concentrated in the city’s southern sections, are still waiting for utilities, especially sewer service, that were originally promised within five years of annexation.

“We’re very close to having met all the requirements,” said Vicksburg Mayor Robert Walker. “Things are a lot better in those areas than they have been in the past.”

After an eight-year court battle, the city won court approval to add 21.5 square miles, mostly along U.S. 61 in the south and North Washington Street in the north. Before 1990, the city consisted of about 13 square miles. While Walker was not mayor when the annexation case was begun in 1982, he was in his first full term when the case culminated in a Supreme Court decree.

Police and fire protection were extended to the newly annexed areas almost immediately. The city took over and refurbished the volunteer fire station in Kings, and created a new fire station at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport to handle the southern annexed areas. Garbage pickup was also extended soon after annexation.

More recently, officials have discussed opening a new police precinct in Kings, envisioned as a scaled down version of the Douglas Park Precinct in Marcus Bottom, Walker said.

New fire hydrants along North Washington Street and several streets in Warrenton Heights subdivision, including Kendra Drive, are in the budget for this year.

South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb said the road improvement portion of the lawsuit settlement that allowed the annexation was completed several years ago, but road work in the annexed areas is ongoing.

A $1.2 million project funded for this year will repave a long stretch of North Washington Street, which was left uneven after water and sewer lines were run beneath the pavement.

Other ongoing pavement projects include Lakewood and Chapel Hills subdivisions. Major street paving in the northern areas was done in 1998.

Extending water and sewer lines has been a more laborious, and ultimately controversial, effort.

In 1995, city officials estimated that extending sewer lines throughout the annexed areas would cost about $12 million, Habeeb said. The city issued $7 million in bonds and completed the majority of that work.

About $300,000 remains from the 1995 sewer bond money, and those funds will be used this year to run sewer connectors to homes on U.S. 61 north of the Fast Lane store and on Wigwam Road, Habeeb said.

Walker said he hoped to have hard numbers on how much those projects would cost within the next few months.

“I’m not going to say that all of that will be done before election time,” Walker said.

A major obstacle to providing sewer service in South Vicksburg was overcome when the city purchased Riverside Utilities from former owner Glen Kelly Johnson, who received jail time for environmental violations in Louisiana, Habeeb said.

Overall, he said, there are about $2.7 million in sewer projects left to be done that aren’t in current plans for the next year.

That includes some houses on Redbone Road and Belva Drive, along with about 40 homes on Warrenton Road. Although there has been talk of a new sewer bond to fund these projects, no movement has yet been made in that direction, Habeeb said.

While gambling money, which began flowing into city coffers in 1993, has helped Vicksburg extend services more quickly than otherwise would have been possible, Habeeb said the job could have been done more quickly if city priorities had been rearranged.

“It comes down to really one of my biggest gripes,” he said. “We’re borrowing money to build sewers and paying cash for a project like the Jackson Street Center. Priority spending has not been achieved.”

But Habeeb agreed that the vast majority of the projects in the annexed areas have been completed.

Walker said that while the city has had to pace itself because of budget constraints, after a decade, most city services were in place.

“With the huge city that we have, everything can’t be done at once,” he said.