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City’s year begins with flurry of downtown work

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young rides on heavy equipment at the Vicksburg Convention Center with city Street Department worker Montie Busby this morning as part of the city’s weeklong effort to clean up downtown. City work crews were hauling dirt for a road to connect the parking lot at Mulberry and Clay streets with the convention center.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[10/01/01]Vicksburg officials kicked off the the new fiscal year this morning by working outdoors.

“We want to show that Vicksburg is open for business,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young who rode a tractor near the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Many of the events are centered on cleaning up along Clay and Washington streets and beginning work on more additions to City Front.

Today’s also the day the city kicks off a $29.4 million spending plan for the next 12 months that includes about $700,000 for the waterfront project, with the remainder to come from a planned bond issue.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who took office four months ago, said he plans to get every city employee out working this week and get downtown looking better before this weekend’s Fall Festival.

“I want to show the community that we can make a difference,” Leyens said.

Activities this morning included work north of the convention center where city officials plan to landscape a vacant lot, clearing a parking lot on Mulberry Street and painting street lines on Clay Street at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Leyens and the aldermen also took part in ribbon-cutting ceremonies at Washington and Jackson streets and Clay Street at the park.

The Fall Festival is centered on Washington Street while the Old Court House Museum grounds will be the venue Saturday for an all-day flea market. The museum will also have two nights of outdoor concerts Friday and Saturday featuring traditional music performers from Louisiana and Arkansas.

While Young rode on a tractor, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, long-time head of the city’s parks and recreation department, drove another.

Spending that starts today equals about $1,113 per city resident over the next year. Leyens said that he feels the budget is still too large, but that the work is needed.

“The town has been sitting idle for years and we need to move it forward,” Leyens said. “I want people to say, Hey, something is going on in Vicksburg.'”

To pay for the waterfront project, the proposed urban renewal plan and $9.6 million in public works improvements, the city has proposed issuing $18 million in general obligation bonds. If the proposed bonds are approved, the spending for 2001-2002 would total $47.4 million.

Although precise comparisons are impossible due to what some cities place in their budgets vs. what others spend “off-budget,” Greenville will spend $1,444 per person and Natchez will spend $964.

With the proposed bond issue, Vicksburg could spend up to $1,795 per person.

“It’s not the amount of money we’re spending,” Leyens said. “It’s how we’re spending the money.”

Since the first of Vicksburg’s four casinos opened in August 1993, the budget for the city of Vicksburg has swelled from $10.1 million in 1990 to nearly three times as much today. While the city’s population grew 26.3 percent in the last decade, spending per person nearly tripled in numbers not adjusted for inflation.

Leyens said he hopes to reduce the cost of government during his four-year term by cutting the number of city employees by 30 percent. The first step in that plan is the reduction in the size of the police force from 100 to 74 this year.

The $29.4 million city budget approved last month includes $25.9 million for general government expenses and $3.5 million for capital improvements. The plan is about $700,000 less than last year’s $30.1 million budget after amendments made in June by the previous administration.

Leyens said the events starting today will continue through the week and should help stimulate investments in Vicksburg.

“I’m hoping people will be excited about the beginning of the new year,” Leyens said.

Work beginning this week will include landscaping downtown and along Clay Street, repairs to the fence at Cedar Hill Cemetery and the installation of the two new pavilions at the Riverfront Park. Some of the work, including the work at the park, was started in the previous administration.

Funding for the downtown plans are also to come from the proposed bond issue. The city is in a required 30-day waiting period until Oct. 23 before the money can be borrowed. A petition signed by 1,500 registered city voters would result in a vote, but voters have not petitioned for a public vote on any bond issue here in 50 years.