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Kings residents want park open, question costs

North Ward Alderman Gertrude young listens as Kings resident Willie Jordan poses a question about his high water bills. Warren County District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, second from left, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman and Mayor Laurence Leyens talk during the community meeting in Kings Tuesday night.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[08/08/01] Kings residents told Vicksburg officials Tuesday night they want children to be able to use a city park on Sherman Avenue that has been under lock and key for four years.

About 38 people attended the first of the neighborhood meetings that were a campaign promise of Mayor Laurence Leyens.

In addition to the hillside park, those present asked about water and sewer rates and taxes.

“We do not want an open playground,” said Betsy Prentiss, a Sherman Avenue resident. “We want a supervised playground.”

Prentiss, who has lived in the area for 31 years, was one of three people at the meeting who volunteered to help organize future meetings and to head up committees representing the different areas in Kings.

The other volunteers Leyens called “neighborhood captain” are Benny Craft from the Kings area and Alma Taylor from the Ford Subdivision.

“I don’t want this to be the mayor’s meeting,” Leyens said. “I want it to be your meeting that we come to.”

Prentiss said providing a safe environment at the Sherman Avenue park is important to her and other residents in that area.

Leyens said it is up to the residents to help come up with the best solution for the problem and the city to implement that solution.

“What do you think is the effective solution to solve that?” Leyens asked.

Prentiss suggested allowing parents in the neighborhood to open the park at various times during the day to provide supervised times for children along Sherman Avenue. She volunteered to organize residents and create a schedule of supervisors.

“These children in this community need supervision,” Prentiss said.

The park on Sherman Avenue, created by the county before the area was annexed in 1990, was remodeled four years ago to include swings, a baseball field and a pavilion. The project had cost $250,000 and, after vandals struck, city officials locked the gates to prevent more damage.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who at the time was head of the city’s parks and recreation department, said that before the park was locked up, it was common to find it littered with broken glass, condoms and drug needles.

“The first time I walked onto that park I would not have let anyone go in it,” Beauman said.

Currently, residents in the area can get a key to the park from the City Clerk’s Office to use the park during the day, but must return the key to City Hall. Prentiss said that means the park is rarely used.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said the key to the park could be moved to the Kings Community Center to make it more convenient to residents.

Not all of the people who attended the meeting in Kings were from that neighborhood. Jack Shorter, who identified himself as an Enchanted Hills area resident, said he was there to ask officials to be more responsible with taxpayers’ money. “Stop with the spending,” Shorter said.

He said that although the city has not increased tax rates, its rates for water, sewer and garbage services, which had been supplemented with tax funds, were increased sharply with no offset in taxes.

“That’s why you saw the change in the election,” Shorter said.

City and county officials are preparing budgets and setting tax rates for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. While the city has given no indication if taxes rates will change, Leyens said requests from department heads added up to more than the projected revenue.

He said officials will go back to department heads and ask them to cut items that are not a priority for next year.

Members of the Vicksburg Police Department’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team were also at the meeting to introduce themselves. Safety for elderly residents and speeding along Sherman Avenue and other roads were mentioned.

“I think we need to start posting a patrol car up there,” Young said.

Leyens said about 22 neighborhoods have been identified across the city where he hopes to begin meeting regularly with residents.

“It is really going to take the community to make this work,” Leyens said.

The next community meeting will be in Wildwood subdivision behind ParkView Regional Medical Center, he said.

Residents interested in volunteering to help organize a meeting in their neighborhood should contact Community Improvement Coordinator Robert Hubbard through the Mayor’s Office at 631-3719.