City police want more money, more officers in new fiscal year

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 25, 2002

[07/25/02]Vicksburg police managers want $137,000 more in next year’s budget and permission to add back 10 slots for officers.

Deputy Police Chief Richard O’Bannon presented the mayor and aldermen with a budget request Wednesday of $5.9 million for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Department heads have been submitting their proposals for the last two weeks and a public hearing will be Aug. 22 for what will be this administration’s second spending plan.

The additional cost for police operations is a net number, reflecting lower costs in some areas and bringing the department back up to about 85 sworn officers, which O’Bannon, in his post for about six months, described as the ideal number for Vicksburg.

Today, the department has about 76 officers, down from more than 100 in recent years and explosive spending for overtime that threatened to exceed the 2001 budget by $500,000.

O’Bannon said the plan to reduce the number of officers and install new pay scales to make them the state’s best-paid, eliminated too many slots.

“There are a lot of extra activities that go on here that don’t go on in other cities this size,” O’Bannon said, citing RiverFest, the Fourth of July celebration, Miss Mississippi Pageant and others.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, in office for 13 months, has said he inherited a budgetary mess. He blamed the soaring overtime expense on poor management and replaced former Chief Mitchell Dent with Tommy Moffett.

Leyens said Wednesday he is pleased with the changes. “We’re moving in a good direction,” Leyens said.

Along with reducing the number of officers, the new administration cut the total police budget by about $1.4 million. The largest cut came in personnel cost, which went from $5.6 million to $4.4 million.

This year, the department is expected to come in under its budget of $5.7 million which includes the new merit-based pay system.

“I wish we could take all the credit, but we can’t,” said O’Bannon. “This department had some good officers when we got here and still does.”

The police department was the last city division to present its budget request to the city board. Leyens did not indicate if board members would support the request, but said he does not expect a tax increase for city residents.

“We’re encouraged by what’s been presented in the preliminary budget hearings,” Leyens said.

For this year, the city approved a $29.4 million spending plan that does not include a $17.7 million bond issue. The cost of repaying the bond issue over the next 10 years is about $2.3 million a year.

Leyens said he expects to repay the bond by cutting the general fund. The current city tax rate is 35.88 mills, or about $35 per $1,000 of assessed property value after homestead exemption.

Separately, county officials, who are also in the process of building a budget for the new fiscal year, have said county taxes will not go up. The current rate is 34.39.

School officials already approved a $62.3 million plan estimated to raise tax rates from 46.31 mills to 48.41 mills. The rate will reflect a $2.10 tax increase for every $1,000 of assess value.

Millage rates passed by city, county and school officials are combined to calculate property tax bills mailed out in December.