Shorter: Cut utility costs with subsidies|[3/11/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 11, 2005

Democratic hopeful for mayor John Shorter says he wants to lower rates for city utilities by returning to subsidies that have been reduced under the current administration.

Shorter, a service contractor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told members of the Port City Kiwanis Club Thursday that increases in 2003 in city water and natural gas rates are making it harder to live in Vicksburg and driving residents outside the city limits.

He said that if elected he would work to reduce the monthly bills. Vicksburg extracts, purifies and sells water, pipes away and treats sewage, buys natural gas on the open market and sells it and hires a contractor to provide residential garbage pickup twice per week.

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Although utilities are a separate business, past administrations have routinely used general tax receipts to offset expenses. Officials now in office have moved toward making utilities self-sustaining.

“How can you not subsidize water when that’s your primary function, but you subsidize the Convention Center?” Shorter asked.

New rates that went into effect in November 2003 increased the cost of both water and natural gas by about 15 percent. Despite those increases, subsidies from the general fund are still needed in those budgets to offset the actual costs.

In the water fund, this year’s subsidy is about $500,000, down from $800,000 before the rate increase. The gas fund subsidy is actually higher today, $800,000 this year up from about $500,000 before rate increases, due in part to the rising cost of natural gas.

Shorter, who is a first-time office seeker, said rates could be cut without a tax increase by prioritizing spending and reducing the amount spent on cleaning up the city.

“It’s not about the gloss,” Shorter said.

Shorter, 38, is seeking the Democratic party nomination in the May 3 primary election where he will face John Ferguson, 63; Eric Rawlings, 42, and Charles Selmon, 44. If none of the candidates gets a majority in the primary the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff on May 17.

The winner of the nomination will advance to the June 7 general election to face incumbent Laurence Leyens, 40, and Joe Loviza, 65, both independents, and the only Republican in that race, Shirley Newman Smollen, 69. The job pays $73,500.

Also on the May 3 ballot will be Democratic primary races in the North and South wards.

Seeking the nomination in the North Ward are incumbent Gertrude Young, 49, Michael Mayfield, 47, and Rodney Dillamar, 45. The winner will face independents Vickie Bailey, 36, and Tommie Rawlings, 41, and Carl Yelverton, 58, who is alone in filing as a Republican, in the general election.

In the South Ward, DaVon Grey, 46, and Pam Johnson, 39, are vying for the Democratic nomination. The winner will challenge incumbent Sid Beauman, 57, a Republican seeking his second term.

Aldermen are paid $58,000 annually. Winners of the three elected positions take office on July 4.

Absentee ballots for the primary elections will be available at the City Clerk’s Office starting March 19. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is April 2.

Residents who have moved since the last countywide election should also notify the City Clerk’s Office before the registration deadline.