City’s $31 million budget ready for public viewing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 25, 2004

[8/25/04]Vicksburg officials will present a $30.8 million election-year budget Thursday that will increase spending, but not taxes.

For the new revenue, officials say they will tap about $2 million from reserve accounts built up since riverboat gambling kicked off here 11 years ago.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall Annex, where the mayor and aldermen will take comments before completing the budget. The spending plan has to be approved before Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

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Officials said the money from the reserve account, now at about $12 million, will be added to about $2 million left over from the current year’s $27.6 million budget to cover the differences between revenue collections and costs in the water, gas and garbage collection departments.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said separately that taking money from the reserves would keep the city from having to raise taxes while maintaining services.

“The only reason we dipped into the cash reserves was so we wouldn’t have to raise taxes,” Young said. City elections are in 2005. All three have said they will seek re-election next year and although there have been no tax rate increases in any of their budgets, rate hikes for water, gas, sewer and garbage collection have been imposed. Also, two bond issues have been floated totaling $23.1 million.

Overall, the plan shows few major increase over the current year. Those changes include a $400,000 pot for merit raises allocated in the administration’s budget and some capital improvements budgeted for the City Auditorium and the Vicksburg Convention Center. Remodeling a lobby and adding outdoor security cameras at police headquarters increases their budget. The Street Department budget also reflects paving costs, which have been paid off-budget from bond money.

Both the auditorium and the convention center are managed by a private management company.

“I think this next year this administration will be exactly where we said we would be,” Beauman said.

Unlike the previous three years of this administration, the new spending plan includes only a handful of capital improvement projects. Some, including the downtown art park, will be built during the next fiscal year, but will be funded out of either the current budget or the 2001 bond issue.

The largest, single capital improvement project budgeted for the next fiscal year is about $670,000 for road paving.

“Basically, it’s a very simple, clean budget,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens. “There are no wows.”

When Leyens took office in 2001, he proposed finishing all capital projects, including the downtown revitalizations before the last year of their four-year terms.

The city’s revenue comes largely from the collection of sales taxes, property taxes and taxes on casino revenues. The city’s proposed budget projects an increase of about $900,000 in anticipated revenue from those sources due to new developments and increased valuations.

Already, the Vicksburg Warren School District has begun a budget year that will not require higher property taxes. Supervisors are also working on their budget, which must be completed by the beginning of the county’s fiscal year, also Oct. 1.