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City to spend $525,000 on tracking

[8/31/2001]Vicksburg will spend $200,000 more than first announced, or up to $525,000, to install global positioning transponders in police cars, officials said Thursday.

During a final budget session before approving the proposed $35 million spending plan, the mayor and aldermen shifted funds for the Auto Vehicle Locator system from the regular capital improvement budget to a special fund for police grants. The fund has $322,500 in U.S. Department of Justice funds that will go toward the purchase of the system.

“We feel like it will pay for itself within six months because of the savings from abuses,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said.

When the city presented its proposed budget last week, the cost of the system was estimated to be $325,000. Leyens said that figure had been based on 40 police cars and the city has 94. He said that the city is also considering putting transponders in Vicksburg Fire Department ambulances.

Devices in vehicles will beam a signal from police cars to satellites in orbit and provide dispatchers with the exact location of every vehicle at all times. The system would also keep an archive of where every car was located and when.

As a management tool, the cost would be about $5,000 per vehicle to make sure officers were patrolling as assigned and were where they said they were at specific times.

However, North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said she believes the AVL system could be a good tool for police officers, she does not believe it is needed enough to spend $525,000.

“If the watch commander is doing what they’re supposed to do, then we don’t need to spend all that money,” Young said.

Police Chief Mitchell Dent has said it will improve response time, accountability and safety for officers. He said Vicksburg would join Jackson as the only cities in the state with such a system, Dent said.

Young, Dent and other city officials also met with representatives of the company hoping to sell an AVL system. John McConnell vice president of Digital Safety Technologies Inc., a Tennessee-based company, proposed a system that could also be upgraded to include digital cameras and audio.

One question brought up by Young was why a small community with a low crime rate would need an AVL system.

“Columbine is considered a small community as well,” McConnell said, with reference to the Denver suburb where two students killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves in April 1999.

Along with moving the cost of the AVL system out of the $10 million capital improvement fund, the mayor and aldermen cut $175,000 from the recreation department’s budget. Those funds were for the renovation of the recreation department building.

City officials said they plan to approve the proposed spending plan at the next board meeting at 9 a.m., Tuesday at City Hall Annex. The budget is for the new fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.

Overall, the budget would be the city’s second-highest ever. Major new outlays are to be funded by borrowing, and tax rates are to remain the same, Leyens has said.

Warren County supervisors have set a public budget hearing for 9 a.m., Tuesday at the courthouse. Supervisors have given no indication how spending during the new fiscal year will compare with the $28 million budgeted this year, but their state-required public notice says they are planning a 1-mill tax increase in addition to the 2.43-mill increase they expect to levy to comply with the budget resolution and tax increase imposed by the Vicksburg Warren School District.