Repeated river studies called unnecessary

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 2, 2001

[08/02/01] No more studies of Vicksburg’s river frontage are needed, Mayor Laurence Leyens says. Instead, it’s time to “return to where we came from” and improve public sites along the Mississippi River and Yazoo Canal.

Leyens delivered that message at the Lions Club Wednesday and at Port City Kiwanis Thursday. A waterfront project that has been talked about by city officials for nearly a decade was his main topic.

“I don’t want to spend another four years studying the waterfront development program,” Leyens said. “If it makes sense, let’s do it.”

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What is now Vicksburg was first settled as a natural river fortress by Spanish and French explorers. During the colonial period and since, it has been a center for river-based commerce.

Various studies over the years include a theater, parks, gardens and an interpretive museum incorporating the city-owned towboat MV Mississippi in the area along Washington Street between Clay and First East streets.

“Every time we sit down with someone to talk about this, they pull out another study,” he said.

Leyens said he thought the waterfront development, along with cleaning up the city’s main streets, would have the most impact on the economy in Vicksburg and that he believed studies of the project have shown that it should progress.

City landscaping architect Jeff Richardson said he designed a proposed plan based on the studies that would incorporate hanging gardens and the MV Mississippi.

He said he thinks city officials are taking an initiative, but that they are awaiting a funding decision by the federal government to see if the boat can be included.

“From what I’ve heard, they still want to push ahead with waterfront development, even without the Motor Vessel Mississippi,” Richardson said.

He said he agrees that enough studies have been done on the project and that a master plan needs to be developed in order to make proposals and to see what the city is willing and able to do.

“We’re trying to figure out what the next step is,” Richardson said. “It’s still in the infancy stages.”

Leyens also discussed other city matters, repeating a desire for more accountability from department heads and the need to have the public more involved in the city business.

“Vicksburg has great resources and great people,” Leyens said. “The problem has been just a lack of communication.”

Leyens said he has returned budget requests submitted by some departments and has asked for a mission statement and demanded line-item lists of expenditures. Vicksburg and Warren County will OK their spending plans and set their tax rates in coming weeks for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

“There has been a lot of inefficiency in government,” he said. “We’ve actually been able to reduce the budget in every department without losing any services.”

He said ideal budgets for the departments should be turned in this week and next and that the public will be privy to the cuts each department has made.

“Division heads will make cuts in a group form with the public,” Leyens said. “We need to represent the feelings and opinions of the community.”

He also said members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have been working well together and putting in 12- to 14-hour days trying to evaluate what has been done and what needs to be done for the city.

He also mentioned terminations in the police department of what he said are “unnecessary mid-management positions.” A hiring freeze has been issued while the employment concerns are being decided.

“We want to raise the standards of employment,” Leyens said.