Question 10: In 2000
, water, sewer, and garbage collection rates were increased drastically to bring them more in line with the city’s actual costs for these services. These increases offset a multimillion-dollar supplement being paid from the general fund. Should consumers pay the actual costs of city utilities or should there be cost sharing, as was practiced previously, to limit bills of those less able to pay?
Dillamar: Cost sharing for water, sewer and garbage collection was once acceptable in Vicksburg which assisted those less able to pay full cost for these services. Research is needed to determine why changes were made in this department and what actually happened with monies available from the general funds. I cannot give a precise answer to the question, but I will support whatever is in the best interest of the citizens of Vicksburg.
Pratt: Rising energy costs are a national concern. However, with management of our costs of government, the rising costs of utilities could be cushioned against efficiencies in other parts of our city operations.
Young: Unlike many municipalities, we were very fortunate to have money in reserve to subsidize utility billing. We have considered subsidizing senior-citizen billing, however, according to the Attorney General’s Office, this act would be considered a form of discrimination. As a municipality we are prohibited from using taxpayers’ funds to supplement citizens who are unable to pay their utilities. This is also considered a form of discrimination. Legally, we can and do provide, on an individual basis, payment plans for citizens in these situations.
Question 11: Vicksburg has about 600 employees and a $15.8 million payroll, putting the cost per employee at about $26,300. Have you compared these numbers with other American municipalities about the same size? Do you have an idea of how many people should be on the city payroll? Are you satisfied with compensation levels? Too high? Too low?
Dillamar: Biloxi has 548 employees, including part-time, and 492 full-time employees. By city ordinance, employees earn an average of 213 hours of paid leave per year which equals to 26, 8-hour days for each employee. They are also provided health, dental and life insurance benefits. Vicksburg is growing. The duties and responsibilities of city employees are growing. In order to stay competitive, the city employees need to be compensated.
Pratt: The rapid escalation of our city budgets should be a concern of all citizens. While it would be premature of me to offer specifics at this point, every facet of our city operation should be scrutinized to ensure that our city employees are receiving fair wages for their work as well as giving taxpayers efficient services for their tax dollars.
Young: The City of Vicksburg provides a variety of services that are not performed in other municipalities that are the same size. Through attrition and the utilization of part-time employees, we have decreased our workforce by 100 employees. If an employee retires or leaves under any other circumstances, the position is not filled unless it is absolutely necessary. Taking all of these factors into consideration, one must ask what services can you (taxpayer) afford to give up?
Question 12: Please summarize your views about the Vicksburg Convention Center, its use, management and funding.
Dillamar: The Vicksburg Convention Center was developed to bring in tourism in Vicksburg by attracting people who may not have visited this area by hosting shows, conferences, pageants, parties, and etc. It is funded through the lounging tax. Each hotel and motel is taxed 2 percent. This process allows everyone to benefit. Hotels increase their usage and other area businesses and restaurants increase their sales from the visits. The management contract changed hands recently. This was done in hopes of bringing expertise that will market the facility, increase income and stabilize employment. The Vicksburg Convention Center has been a positive asset to the Vicksburg area and I feel it will continue to be.
Pratt: I have great expectations for it now that its operation is in the hands of a professional firm.
Young: The Vicksburg Convention Center is an asset to this community because of its tourism capabilities. Through the new management firm, new money will flow into our city because Vicksburg will be more competitive in markets that were previously unavailable.
Question 13. What do you consider Vicksburg’s most important asset? What plans do you have to use or support this asset more effectively?
Dillamar: I feel that the youth, schools and riverfront development are Vicksburg’s most important assets. We need to improve our school systems to better prepare our children for the future, including reading skills mathematical skills and computer skills. We need to upgrade our schools to met these requirements. Riverfront development is also needed for economic and recreational growth.
Pratt: It’s location: Support our businesses by encouraging a good supply of educated and conscientious workforce. Encourage our tourism potential by improving our appearance, developing an attractive and efficient waterfront, encourage a vibrant main street and downtown business area. Be a leader and support cooperation among the many factions, especially the city and the county.
Young: Vicksburg’s most important asset is its people. Vicksburg would practically sell itself if we took advantage of the current resources already available such as the Vicksburg Convention Center, National Military Park, casinos, etc., the fact that Vicksburg is a designated retirement community and the openness and caring spirit of its people.