Flaggs: Gas use figures into city debt

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reducing the rate of unaccounted natural gas use by the city figures into restructuring debt, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said.
“I want to create a process that minimizes the unaccountable gas use in this city,” Flaggs said.
Speaking on the topic of money to the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club, Flaggs said he is looking at reducing they city’s rate of unaccounted natural gas use, gas that is being used but not being paid for, because city officials cannot determine where it is being used.
The city in 2012 signed a contract with Siemens to install new gas and water meters to more accurately determine water and gas use.
In 2012, he said, the city’s unaccounted gas use rate was 23 percent. Flaggs said he wants to cut that loss to 10 percent, adding the move will put about $3 million year more in the city budget.
That money, he said, would help fund pay increases for city employees, including raising the minimum wage for city employees from $7.25 to $8 an hour.
Restructuring the city’s debt is part of Flaggs plan to get the city’s bond rating restored. The city has not had a bond rating since February of 2012, when Moody’s Investment Services, a New York-based provider of credit ratings and risk analysis, pulled the city’s A-1 rating.
“When I sat on (the House) Banking and Finance (committee), I got to know this — every now and then you ought to look and re-evaluate your situation and see whether or not you can save some money,” Flaggs, a former legislator, said.
“If you can save 1 percent in millions or thousands, you save good money. I believe that we can restructure our debt and save about $50,000 to $60,000 a year for the general fund.”
The rating was pulled because of a lack of current financial information.
The debt restructuring will also give city officials an idea of how much money the city will be able to borrow for a proposed five-year capital improvements program. City division heads in December presented a list of proposed projects totaling $57.7 million.
Concerning the city’s work force, Flaggs said he plans to implement an employee evaluation system.
“The reason I wanted to realign the departments was because there was no evaluation tool, no performance measurements, nothing,” he said.
“I can’t imagine working a job and not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing, how you’re supposed to be doing, no benchmarks, nothing,” he said. “All I want to know is what you do and what you get paid to do. You cannot promote or grant salary raises based on friendship, politics.
“What you’ve got to have is a structured reward, functional responsibility, people who come down and do what they’re supposed to do.”
Looking at other issues, Flaggs called the trip to Washington, D.C., “productive,” adding “we got to meet all the members of the delegation. They were impressed that the city and the county are on the same page.”
Among the topics discussed during the visit, he said, were port expansion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Corps’ Engineering Research and Development Center, and adding battlefield sites in Raymond and Port Gibson to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

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About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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