Belly up: Port Gibson on the cusp of a money crisis

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

Port Gibson’s aldermen have been behaving like Congress.

And that’s not a compliment.

Not only have the keepers of our neighboring town’s purse been as irresponsible — for many years — as their counterparts in Washington, there’s a crucial distinction: Port Gibson can’t just print more greenbacks.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The situation has been deteriorating to the point that this week Emma Crisler, editor of The Port Gibson Reveille newspaper, chose “City Hall Stinks” as the headline for her weekly commentary. She talked about how meetings are announced at one time and held at others, how some of the town’s elected officials show up and others duck and run for cover and how utter confusion has taken the place of any semblance of order.

In 2008, newly elected Mayor Fred Reeves said his first priority was to get a handle on the town’s finances — how much was owed and to whom. He hasn’t been able to do that. The aldermen control spending — not the mayor — and they’re not saying if they even know.

This much is clear: The town is broke. Many bills are unpaid. Salaries, it’s reported, are being paid directly from monthly revenue at the town water department.

Of course, as broke as the town is, there was still money (in the water department fund) to pay for raises for the aldermen and for them to attend last week’s four-day convention/party of the Mississippi Municipal League in Biloxi.

The town’s practice has been to borrow money through a special device known as a tax anticipation loan, created to tide cities and counties over until revenues in a new budget year actually arrive. But apparently Port Gibson hasn’t been paying enough on its loans and, Crisler says, is like a credit card debtor drowning in so much red ink that only minimum payments can be made, if that.

Municipalities are not audited by state officials as counties are. They can get into big trouble when no one is paying attention. Port Gibson is in big trouble and the national economy is no excuse. It’s purely because those who are supposed to be stewards of the public purse have, for years, spent money the town doesn’t have — and has no prospect of receiving.