‘Cutbacks’ don’t mean people paying less

Published 12:28 am Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vicksburg’s mayor and aldermen are to be commended for taking a pass on their scheduled raises this year, but please note two factors that make last week’s vote largely symbolic.

First, the total foregone was $11,000. Measured against the city’s $31.5 million budget, that amount is .035 percent of total city outlays. Every penny saved is important, but in perspective the taxpayers’ total cost for all three elected officials at their current compensation levels is slightly more than half of 1 percent of city spending. People often carp about officials’ salaries. Those complaints are misplaced. Far more important is how seriously they control waste.

Second, and far more relevant, is that the mayor and aldermen acted earlier this year to make millions of dollars more available for general city spending. They did this by sharply increasing water and sewer bills for customers of the city-owned utility. While the new revenue will, appropriately, put the utility operations on a break-even footing, it must be remembered that these costs had been covered by supplements from the city’s tax revenue. Because the city is not paying those supplements, that cash may be reallocated as the mayor and aldermen deem suitable.

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Vicksburg officials and Warren County supervisors are both indicating no intention to increase general property tax rates this year. That’s positive news for the community and comes despite the fact that here and elsewhere, state and federal lawmakers are continuing to layer on more and more for local governments to do. Grants and reimbursements do not cover the total costs.

Management of the public treasury is, for the most part, done responsibly here. But it pays to pay attention. The overall cost of government at all levels continues to rise at a fast clip. Officials talk about “cutbacks” even as people pay more and more. The money is merely being extracted from the private sector more artfully.