City, county give wish list to legislators

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 26, 2004

Mayor Laurence Leyens talks with state legislators and city and county officials Friday during a joint meeting. Seated clockwise from left are District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders, District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, Sen. Mike Chaney, Mayor Laurence Leyens, Warren County Board President and District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young. With back to camera is Rep. George Flaggs. To his left is Rep. Chester Masterson. (Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[1/24/04]Three weeks into the 2004 legislative session, city and county officials met with Warren County’s delegates to the Capitol Friday to solicit funding for some projects and ask for certain authorities.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors will individually take up resolutions at later meetings to make those requests official. Legislators typically will not take any action upon local government requests until there is a vote by a public board.

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The deadline to file general bills amending state law is Feb. 10. The deadline to file local and private legislation, bills that only affect one city or one county, is the end of the session in May.

Zoning laws

One of the local and private bills being sought by city officials would give Vicksburg the authority to pass zoning laws that would regulate new building materials and certain appearances.

“We want to stop the construction of metal buildings going up on our main thoroughfares,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

City Planner Wayne Mansfield said similar legislation was passed for Olive Branch in 1999 to provide that city with the authority to require new buildings be made of approved materials. The legislation being proposed by Vicksburg would also allow the city to set certain requirements for landscaping, drainage and traffic access.

Some zoning laws already address parking and some landscaping, but Mansfield said those laws have been challenged in some places where there was no specific state authority.

Over time, he said that kind of stricter zoning laws would greatly improve the appearance of main roads such as Clay Street.

“There have been hundreds of studies so show that esthetics effect property values too,” Mansfield said.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said he will look at the previous legislation passed for Olive Branch and submit similar legislation for Vicksburg.

Beulah Cemetery

A sudden silence fell across the conference room in the Warren County supervisors’ offices when city officials asked for more money to maintain Beulah Cemetery, but Flaggs said he could find a way.

“I can handle that,” Flaggs said.

The committee that oversees the historic cemetery at the end of Martin Luther King Drive was awarded a $50,000 state grant in 1999, but that money has since run out, leaving the private burial ground overgrown with weeds and vines again.

Years of effort by the committee have fallen short of a permanent solution and efforts by the city to take it over have been rejected by committee members over concerns that the historically black cemetery would be neglected.

“The problem I see is getting something passed in the Senate when we can’t even get money for the cleanup of the Grand Gulf State Park and cemetery,” said Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg.

City and county officials said they would be willing to commit local funding for the cemetery, but current state law doesn’t allow it. Warren County District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said their board would also be willing to loan equipment to the Beulah committee for work there, but that, too, is not allowed.

“The cemetery is getting lost again,” Leyens said.

Flaggs agreed that it wasn’t likely to get funding directly through legislative appropriations, but that money could be made available through Archives and History that the city could apply for on behalf of Beulah. He also said he would back a local and private bill to let the city and county provide local funding and services.

Funding 911

City and county officials say they want the authority to raise telephone surcharges to fund 911 and are also asking for help getting federal regulators to increase similar surcharges on cell phones.

Last year, the idea was floated by city officials to get the authority to raise residential telephone surcharges to $2.50 per month for each line and business charges to $5, but the legislative session ended before local officials could agree on new rates.

A concern raised by county officials is that businesses would be asked to carry too much of the burden, especially businesses with multiple phone lines. Supervisors also pointed out the growing number of cell phones replacing home phones.

“This is going on all across the country,” said District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield.

The surcharge on cell phones today is $1 per month. Land line rates are $1 a month for residences and $2 a month for businesses, but officials note that without increasing rates for cell phones an increase may not generate more money.

Vicksburg and Warren County contribute a supplement to 911 of about $800,000 annually to fund the call and dispatch center because telephone surcharges do not cover all expenses. Officials hope increasing the phone surcharge would eliminate the need for that supplement.

“I want to help county government and city government, but I was elected by my constituents,” said Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg. “I’m going to have to look very closely at this.”

County supervisors said they want a limit on the number of lines at one location that are charged the 911 fee and want the surcharge for businesses to be closer in amount to the proposed residential rate.

If legislation is approved, any increase would also have to be voted on by the county board.