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Capital projects plan costliest ever for city

[08/14/01] Vicksburg officials piecing together a budget are proposing the largest amount ever for capital and infrastructure spending.

If approved, the plan, which would take effect Oct. 1, will total $34.1 million and include about $9.8 million in new projects.

This year’s budget, approved by the previous administration at a total of $30.8 million, includes about $6.5 million in capital improvements.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the spending is needed to create economic development and indicated the money will come from borrowing, not tax increases.

“Not only is our capital improvement (budget) the largest ever, but it’s only the beginning of our agenda,” Leyens said.

Although city officials are still tweaking the final budget, which has to be approved by Sept. 17, Leyens said he is pleased with the process so far. The draft budget proposed Monday shows the city expects $24.7 million in income in the 12 months starting Oct. 1.

It also shows spending reductions in most city divisions including administration and police and fire departments.

Strategic Planner Paul Rogers said about $2 million in money for capital improvements would be carried forward from this budget year, including the Jackson Street Creative Resource Center and repaving North Washington Street. He said about $1.5 million may be saved in the General Fund to pay for other improvements and that the remaining $7 million for other projects will have to be funded through loans, grants or bond issues.

“We don’t know about the $7 (million) yet,” Rogers said. “There are some big projects in there that funding would have to come from somewhere else.”

Leyens said it makes sense to borrow money to pay for improvements because the city has low debt and interest rates are low.

“We are borrowing money, but we’re actually doing more capital improvements and we have less overhead,” he said.

The three elected officials will meet this week with department heads to make final cuts in the proposed budget that will be publicly presented Aug. 23.

“We’re way ahead of where we usually are when we have the budget hearing,” Rogers said. “We usually have numbers that are not anywhere close to where the final budget is.”

Other than street improvements, the capital budget includes cemetery improvements and a fire truck and a police car tracking system that will beam signals from Vicksburg police cars to satellites in orbit.

Police Chief Mitchell Dent said the Auto Vehicle Locator system will improve response time, accountability and safety for officers.

“At no time will we not know where an officer is,” Dent said.

Other projects included in the proposed capital improvement plan include a sidewalk repair program, two-laning a portion of downtown Washington Street and funding for the waterfront project. Leyens said other plans for the long-talked-about project along City Front will come up later but were not included in the budget.

“We’re planning to float a large bond to fund that and that’s in addition to what’s in the budget,” Leyens said.