Heated confrontation marks city, county meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2003

[9/12/03] Discussions between city and county officials degenerated Thursday morning into a heated confrontation between Mayor Laurence Leyens and Supervisor Richard George.

“If you will, just shut up for a moment,” George said to Leyens as the two debated how county taxes from city residents are spent.

“You don’t have to be insulting, sir,” Leyens responded, raising his voice. “This is the discussion.”

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Members of the two boards met Thursday at the supervisors’ offices to discuss interlocal agreements concerning E-911, ambulance services and city and county tax collections.

Leyens, who for three years has said the county is unfairly taxing city residents who receive less service, again stated his position that Warren County does not spend money inside the municipal limits even though 65 percent of the county’s property taxes are collected from city residents.

Leyens said that last year he paid $9,000 in county property taxes, but received no county services where he lives.

George, president of the Board of Supervisors, said they needed to come to a decision on interlocal agreements that need to be approved before Oct. 1 before taking up those other matters.

“You should have the respect not to interrupt a person when they are talking. Even a child knows that, and get your foot off the table,” George said to Leyens whose foot was propped on the table during most of the meeting.

“I helped pay for this table. That’s my point,” Leyens said.

One point that Leyens tried to make was in support of statements last week about the city being charged extra for housing prisoners in the Warren County jail. Leyens said the city is charged $20 a day to hold city prisoners in the jail and that often those prisoners are turned away, forcing the Vicksburg Police Department to house them in the Issaquena County jail, which costs the city about $30,000 each month.

Leyens said that is not right since city taxpayers help fund the Warren County jail.

“Why do we have to pay anything,” Leyens asked.

Supervisors countered by pointing out that the only prisoners classified as city prisoners are ones charged with misdemeanor offenses such as the city’s loud noise ordinances or felony suspects who have not made their initial appearance in municipal court.

After prisoners charged with felonies make their first appearances before a municipal judge, they are bound over to the grand jury and become county prisoners. At that point, the prisoners are the responsibility of Warren County.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, who is in charge of the jail, said it houses prisoners charged with felony crimes whether the police department or the sheriff’s department makes the arrest.

“If we’ve got a bed available, we take them,” Pace said. “The only way we would turn them away is if we are at 100 percent capacity.”

Warren County also charges $20 per day to hold city prisoners convicted of misdemeanor crimes, such as traffic tickets or municipal ordinances, Pace said. On Thursday, no city prisoners were in the jail, but 50 prisoners convicted of felony crimes after initially being arrested by the Vicksburg Police Department were housed there and being paid for by the county.

The only prisoner in the Warren County jail the city was paying to house was Walter Jefferson, who had been arrested after Wednesday’s shooting at Vicksburg High School. But he became the county’s responsibility after being bound over to the grand jury this morning.

City and county officials on Thursday did agree for the county to fund ambulance service outside the municipal limits using the same formula as last year and to split the 911 supplement 65 percent city and 35 percent county, although Leyens said he will not support the 911 agreement.

City and county elected officials began meeting about once a month after Leyens’ administration took office in 2001, but those conversations broke down over 911 and animal control. Leyens has voted against ever 911 agreement since taking office, even once threatening to pull out of the combined call and dispatch center.

The two aldermen have voted in favor of those agreement, although they have said they do not agree with the funding formula. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said he will vote for the 65/35 split, but that he agrees with Leyens about it.