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Cut police spending, Leyens tells Dent

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young listen as Mayor Laurence Leyens speaks on the status of the Vicksburg Police Department at the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon Friday. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[07/23/01] Mayor Laurence Leyens is calling on the Vicksburg Police Department to cut payroll expenses by 30 percent in the upcoming fiscal year.

Although the process of determining the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 is in the preliminary stages, Leyens said during a Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce Membership luncheon Friday that he has asked Vicksburg Police Chief Mitchell Dent to cut $1.7 million from personnel costs.

The department’s budget for the year that ends Sept. 30 is about $7 million. About $5.6 million is dedicated to personnel costs. the department currently employs 013 officers.

“We’re trying to wean the city off of casino revenue,” Leyens said. But, “we will not jeopardize public safety at any cost.”

Dent said he is studying the budget-line items, looking to cut the fat to meet the 30 percent goal set by the mayor.

“We’re looking at the restructuring of manpower to see if we can do it,” he said.”

The police department came under scrutiny last month when it was projected that overtime spending would be $500,000 over budget by the end of the fiscal year. In the wake of budget amendments by the former administration and the swearing-in of Leyens on July 1, Dent halted the overtime before it reached projections.

To reach the goal of a 30 percent reduction, Leyens, who also advocated giving raises to officers, said the department could reduce the number of patrol officers on the streets at times when they would be needed less.

The department operates on two 12-hour shifts a day with about 11 patrol officers on each shift. Citing as an example from where cuts may come, Leyens said the number of officers needed on a Saturday night is not the same as on a Monday morning.

“On a Monday at 5 a.m., you have very little need for officers,” he said.

Dent said that while, on average, there is less need for police officers on a Monday morning, crime cannot be predicted.

“The norm is to allocate enough people to handle the unpredictable whenever it happens,” he said.

Leyens said the next step in the budget process is for the city’s 16 division heads to present proposed budgets for review by strategic planner Paul Rogers and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

He said the presentations to the board of budget proposals by division heads will be televised on the city’s cable channel 23.

The board will hold a public hearing, usually in September, to present the budget and take public comment before approving the final draft. The current budget approved by the previous administration is $30.2 million.

Also during Friday’s luncheon, Leyens was asked about comments on the state flag he made the day after being elected mayor. Leyens said the community should decide if the state flag will be flown outside City Hall.

“The fact is that it does create divisiveness in this community, and I do not believe I was elected to create divisiveness,” Leyens said.

In April, 65 percent of voters across the state and 61 percent of voters in Warren County rejected a proposed new design and said they wanted to keep the state’s 107-year-old banner with the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner.

Also responding to the question, North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, beginning her third term at City Hall, pointed out that the number of votes in Warren County does not reflect the opinion of city residents alone, and that the decision should not be based on the state or the county.

“Let the past be the past,” Young said. “If you want us to be a better Vicksburg and Warren County, let’s move forward.”