Winfield brags on City Hall, city staff Mayor says he’ll seek pay raises, tax raises, cost cuts

Published 11:40 am Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield stood before about 150 city residents Tuesday night to review his first 2 1/2 years in office and announce he will present to the city’s two aldermen requests to raise the pay for police and firefighters covered by the city’s Civil Service Board, reduce garbage fees and seek legislative approval to raise hotel and food taxes.

Winfield’s first State of the City address looked at projects completed since he took office in July 2009, discussed the city’s economic growth and looked to the remaining months of his term with a call to residents to support his plan for a sports complex and to promote the city when they visit other areas.

“He did a wonderful job,” said Cecilia Cole, a Vicksburg resident at the address at Vicksburg Auditorium. “He brought out points that really expressed where the city needs to be to aaffect every child and citizen of Vicksburg.”

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

“I thought it was an outstanding presentation, very optimistic,” said Jackie Gain, a Bovina resident who works in Vicksburg.

Winfield bragged on the city’s financial situation, saying the city had budget surpluses exceeding $1 million for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, but he provided no numbers.

“We have been good stewards of your money,” he said.

Winfield said he will ask North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman Monday to approve a request that Warren County legislators present a local and private bill to increase the hotel and food and beverage taxes.

If approved, an additional 2 percent would be added to the city’s hotel tax, raising it to 4 percent, and a1.5 percent tax would be added onto food and beverages sold in the city. The revenue would pay for buying and developing land for a sports complex Winfield has proposed.

He has not announced the location, but has said it is in north Vicksburg.

Winfield said he will also seek a 50 cents per hour across-the-board raise for police and firefighters covered by the city’s Civil Service Board. Providing raises, he said, for 175 to 200 employees. The cost of the raises would be $208,000, but Winfield did not say from where the additional would come.

Non-civil service employees received a 3 percent raise in November 2010. He did not say when he would present the raise proposal to the board.

“Our firefighters and police officers work just as hard as our other employees,” the mayor said. “I have heard zero firefighters and police from the rank and file complain about not getting a pay raise.”

Winfield said the solid waste contract with Waste Management that was signed in June has helped the city reduce an $835,755 deficit in the solid waste fund to allow the board to reduce solid waste fees. He anticipated reducing the fee from $19.95 to $17.50 by March or April.

“We’ve had an exciting 2 1/2 years,” Winfield said. “We’ve had a lot of development. We’ve had local people willing to invest in Vicksburg. I take my hat off to you. You had the courage to believe in Vicksburg.”

He said many of the projects he inherited coming into office “lacked direction and funding and needed to be delegated. A lot of people took on extra work. This (the report) is not about me. This is about the people who work around me.”

Among those projects were improvements to the Vicksburg Municipal Airport, which included renovations to the terminal and construction of a 10-bay T-hangar and a new fire station. He also discussed the renovations to the old Levee Street Depot, which will house the Vicksburg Transportation Museum and the offices of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and Vicksburg Main Street.

He outlined partnerships such as the city’s working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a $1.36 million project to reroute a main water line endangered when soil collapsed beneath it on Washington Street near where the Corps is building an Engineers Interpretive Center just north of the MV Mississippi IV, and a Corps grant to build a backup line.

He also discussed the Washington Street bridge that has been closed to vehicles since January 2009 and is being repaired by Kansas City Southern Railway. Winfield said the bridge is expected to be completed about midmonth.

Winfield highlighted the city’s performance-based contract with Siemens to improve energy efficiency and upgrade plumbing in city buildings and replace water and gas meters.

He said the $7.6 million project is expected to save the city $8.7 million. Again, Winfield declined to explain from where the savings in the Siemens contract would come.

Separately, Winfield touted a partnership with Houston-based Brownstone Group to get tax credit financing to redevelop the Aeolian into senior apartments.

Looking at local business, Winfield said the city issued 646 privilege licenses from 2009 to 2011.

“That’s exciting news,” he said. “Ninety percent of all businesses in America are small businesses. We want people with small businesses to know they will be treated fairly… that they have local officials and residents who want them to come in and do business.”

He said the city’s restaurant and bar and hotel revenues are up, adding that hospitality tax revenues were up by 9.2 percent in fiscal 2011.

Winfield pointed to the number of new retail businesses that have come into the city, citing T.J. Maxx, and Chick-fil-A, which have announced openings in the city in the next few months, and the Vicksburg Mall.

Other items discussed by Winfield included:

• Reorganizing the city’s work force: Winfield, whose election platform included a promise to reorganize the city departments, said he will approach the aldermen in the next few months to discuss a reorganization plan.

• Higher Ground Development: The plan, developed with classmates from the masters of business administration program that Winfield is attending at Tulane University in New Orleans, would move residents in the Kings community to higher ground and out of the flood plain. The plan would develop a residential area on higher ground on the east side of North Washington Street that would allow residents to own their homes.

Winfield said residents need to be a “voice for Vicksburg” and urged them to support the sports complex and the city.

He said he was tired of hearing negative comments about the city and the school system.

“When you look at what we have to offer, we have so much more to offer than other areas,” he said. “We need to put out our brand. We’ve got to put out a product that we can all be proud of and can afford, and sell it.”