Public meeting set on rec complex City hearing is planned for Monday

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vicksburg residents can state opinions and ask questions Monday about a proposal to increase taxes on hotels and food and beverages to fund a proposed sports complex.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday set the public meeting for 6 p.m. at City Hall Annex on Walnut Street to discuss Mayor Paul Winfield’s plan to impose the taxes to collect up to $20 million to pay for a sports complex.

Imposition of the taxes would have to be approved first by the state Legislature and then by a majority of the city’s voters.

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

State Reps. George Flaggs and Alex Monsour addressed the board Monday, days after meeting with members of Vicksburg’s Chapter of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, who oppose the tax increases. Flaggs suggested the upcoming meeting.

“Don’t put the burden on us to force the Legislature to vote on something that doesn’t have local support,” he said.

“We’ll answer questions,” Winfield said. “If they have suggestions, we’ll hear them.

“This is not the mayor’s project,” he said. “This is for the residents of Vicksburg and Warren County. All we’re trying to do is make sure we do something that should have been done years ago.”

Monsour said he has received three calls from constituents opposing the sports complex plan. Most of the people he’s talked with, he said, want the park developed in an accessible area.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Feb. 21 voted 2-1 to send a resolution to the Mississippi Legislature seeking to levy an additional 2 percent tax on hotels and add a 1.5 percent tax to food and beverages to raise up to $20 million to buy property at an undisclosed location on U.S. 61 North and develop a sports complex.

The city’s current 2 percent hotel tax funds the Vicksburg Convention Center. A 1 percent tax on hotel rooms and all food and beverages sold in the city and the county supports the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It is only right that this is funded by the restaurants and hotels, because they will directly benefit from this,” Winfield said. “This is going to be an economic engine for them. The hotels and restaurants had an upsurge in revenue last year. What I hope is that it continues.”

He said he selected the hotel and food taxes, because they were the least intrusive taxes on residents.

The city in 2003 paid $325,000 for a 200-acre tract on Fisher Ferry Road for a sports complex. City officials abandoned the project in 2009 after spending an additional $2.7 million for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work.

Winfield said the Fisher Ferry site was not suitable because part of the property, including the access route, is in a flood zone.

In 2007, the city board hired USA Partners Sports Alliance of Jacksonville, Fla., for $250,000 to determine the feasibility of a proposed $25 million sports complex at Halls Ferry Park, including Bazinsky Field, proposed by the Aquila Group of Vicksburg. It would have included baseball and softball fields and related amenities, a water park, a baseball stadium/ballpark and facilities for golf, soccer, volleyball, tennis and other activities. The Aquila Group would lead the construction and management of the fields and sports facilities.

The project died after a study by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality found the site was not suitable because part of Halls Ferry Park was built on what was once the city’s landfill.

Under an agreement between the city and USA Partners, which was hired after the Aquila Group approached the city, the company would return the $250,000 feasibility study cost to the city if the complex did not materialize. More than four years later, the city has not been reimbursed.

If you go

A public meeting on the proposed recreational complex will be at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall Annex.

On the agenda

Meeting Monday, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen:

• Approved minutes for the Jan. 10 and 17 board meetings.

• Approved a proclamation for American Red Cross Month.

• Reversed a Board of Zoning Appeals decision that denied a request by Emmitt Atwood to rezone property at 1702 Court St. from residential to commercial for a restaurant.

The Board of Zoning Appeals in December voted 3-1 for Atwood’s request, but a 4-0 vote was required to allow the rezoning.

• Heard an update on AmeriCorps.

• Swore in Benjamin Patrick and James Jefferson as Vicksburg police officers.

• Approved a bid of $578.55 from Heath Smith to cut grass on 148 buyout properties in the city.

• Approved hiring Candace Palmertree as manager and Dwan Henderson as assistant manager/marketing director for Vicksburg Farmers’ Market.

• Adopted a resolution conveying a right of way on Clay Street to Warren County for the Stouts Bayou drainage project.

• Approved submitting an application for the 2012 Affordable Housing Program for down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers.

• Authorized Mayor Paul Winfield to sign a management agreement with Utility Management Corp. for natural gas. Winfield said the company advises the city on making bulk gas purchases.

• Authorized Winfield to sign a lease of 50 acres of Vicksburg Municipal Airport Property to Ronnie Muirhead.

Airport director Curt Follmer said Muirhead leases the property to farm. The property runs west from the airport runway to Industrial Road. The rent will be determined by the property appraisal.

• Authorized Winfield to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Mississippi Department of Health to use the Vicksburg Convention Center and Vicksburg City Auditorium as distribution centers for medication during a pandemic.

• Approved documents closing the Precision Approach Path Indicator project at the airport. Follmer said the project was funded by a $55,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant.

Installation of the system was delayed by the 2011 spring flood which covered the south end of the runway when the Mississippi River climbed to record heights in Vicksburg, cresting on May 19 at 57.1, 14.1 feet above flood stage and nine-tenths of a foot above the Great Flood of 1927.

• Approved documents closing the taxiway rehabilitation project at the airport. The project was funded with a $100,000 FAA grant.

• Approved $1,500 for an advertisement for the 2012 American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

• Approved a pay schedule for summer employees at the city’s swimming pool. The pay scale runs from $7.25 to $8 an hour for workers depending on experience and certification.

In related matters, the board set the pool’s Saturday hours from 1 to 5 p.m., and approved hiring certified water safety instructors.

• Approved a request from the Vicksburg Police Department for $1,025.60 to ROCA Restaurant for a March 13 crime prevention luncheon.

• Authorized cleaning the following properties: 723 Grove St. and 718 Grove St. The board granted a 30-day extension to the owners of 717 Grove St.

• Approved a request from Vicksburg Main Street to use city sidewalks for entertainment during the Hit the Bricks open house from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

• Approved a payment of $2,918.89 to the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport.

• Added Johnny Lundstrom to the employee driving list.