City officials unveil $35 million spending plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 24, 2001

Vicksburg resident, John Shorter, left, flips through a copy of the budget proposal during budget hearing meeting at City Hall Annex Thursday night as Mayor Laurence Leyens, right, refers a question to strategic planner Paul Rogers.(The Vicksburg Post/ C. TODD SHERMAN )

[8/24/01]Taxes, police and roads were among topics raised Thursday when Vicksburg officials unveiled a proposed $35 million spending plan.

About 13 people attended the two-hour hearing where the new administration laid out its first spending plan. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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Spending is up in the plan, but taxes would be level.

The budget allocates $24.9 million for the city’s general operational expenses and $10.1 million for capital and infrastructure improvements.

This year’s budget, the last of the previous administration, totaled $30.8 million, including $24.3 million for general expenses and $6.5 million in capital improvements.

The only budget higher than the one proposed Thursday was two years ago at $35.2 million after city officals made budget amendments five months into the fiscal year. No mention of raises for city employees, except for police officers, was made during the hearing.

Expected revenue totals about $25 million, an increase of about $500,000 over this year. Where that money will come from and how much taxpayers will contribute brought a question from John Shorter.

“When are we going to get a physical tax cut and reductions in fees that people can actually feel?” Shorter asked.

As explained by Vicksburg’s strategic planner Paul Rogers, the city’s revenue will come largely from gaming, which makes up $7.1 million, and sales tax, $6.4 million. Property taxes paid directly by residents, which are based on tax rates set by the city, will contribute about $5.6 million.

“We are in a lot better shape than we have been in all the years I’ve been here,” said Rogers, who served as City Clerk for 13 years.

Vicksburg’s income started surging after casinos opened in 1993. Through two adminstrations, income and spending has risen without tax-rate changes and, under the plan as unveiled, the city will spend $3 for every $1 spent eight years ago.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said that the city is proposing the same rate used to calculate property taxes, 35.88 mills.

“I understand your desire to see a reduction in spending,” Leyens said. “But the fact of the matter is we’re playing catch up for the last 30 years with infrastructure needs that are here.”

Warren County supervisors have set a public budget hearing for 9 a.m., Sept. 4 at at the courthouse where they will propose the rate used to calculate county property taxes. Vicksburg Warren School officials already passed a 4 percent increase in the schools rate.

All three rates set by the local boards are added together to figure tax rates for city residents. County residents pay only county and school taxes.

The budget presented by city officials indicated that funding for most of the proposed capital improvement projects, $7.7 million, will come from the sale of bonds.

Ernest Boykin, a resident who attended the meeting, asked how the capital improvements planned in the budget would improve road conditions in Vicksburg.

“Do we have a priority list on street improvements?” Boykin asked.

Leyens said that one of the items in the capital budget is a $125,000 computer software program that will be used to evaluate roads based on various criteria such as traffic and condition.

“This software will allow us to rank roads on the bases of need,” Leyens said.

He said that in the future, roads would be repaired based on that list.

Warren County has a similar list, made based on visual inspections by the county’s engineer and road manager.

Leyens said that the priorities in the capital budget for the new fiscal year will be the corridors into the city and the downtown areas.

“We’re going to clean up Clay Street and we are going to clean up Washington Street and we are going to start the waterfront project,” Leyens said.

State law requires the city and county to publish final budget summaries by Sept. 30 and forward numbers to the tax collector by Oct. 1.

Leyens said that the budget presented Thursday was 99 percent complete, but that other changes could be made before it is approved by the board.