Mayor appoints committee to examine city’s needs

Published 11:04 am Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen closed two days of budget meetings Tuesday with Mayor George Flaggs Jr. appointing committees to examine budget issues involving the city’s vehicle fleet, vacancies in city departments, and improvements to the Vicksburg Auditorium, and telling City Accounting Director Doug Whittington to include $100,000 each for Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson to use in their districts.

Flaggs said the board would meet on the budget again Aug. 15 to review recommendations from the committees and to complete a final draft of the budget. The city will hold a public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2015 budget Aug. 28. It must approve the budget and have it in place by Sept. 15. The 2015 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“I think it’s important that an alderman should be able to make some improvements in their ward,” Flaggs said after announcing the funds. “They should be able to do something that they can put their signature on.”

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“To my knowledge, I cannot recall any board setting aside a pot of money for the aldermen to use,” said Mayfield, who represents the North Ward. He said the money could be used for public works and recreation projects in each district. It is not, he said, a discretionary fund.

“The board still has to vote on it,” he said.

Flaggs said he would support whatever an alderman proposes for his ward.

“I’m going to vote for whatever they come forward with,” he said.

The $100,000 to the aldermen was not the only money Flaggs wanted in the budget. He directed Whittington to include $24,000 for maintenance to Beulah Cemetery, which is maintained by the city under a state bill, and $35,000 in contractual services for the mayor’s office in lieu of another assistant.

The money allows him to hire outside workers as needed instead of a full-time person.

Flaggs wants the committees to do the following:

• The committee of vehicle maintenance superintendent Barry Warnock, City Attorney Nancy Thomas, Whittington and Thompson will examine the city’s vehicle fleet, including heavy equipment, to determine what needs to be replaced and what can still be used as a way to reduce the number of new vehicles the city buys.

“We’re going to narrow the vehicle list down,” Flaggs said.

“They’re going to look at the mileage, the wear on the vehicle, its age and its condition to see what can still be used,” said Flaggs, who is supposed to get a 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe. “We are not going to replace vehicles just because someone wants a new one.”

• The committee of City Clerk Walter Obsorne, Whittington, building maintenance supervisors Sammie Rainey, Thomas, landscape director Jeff Richardson, and safety director Jeff York will examine improvements to the city auditorium beyond improvements to the building’s entrance, which will include a handicap ramp, new doorway and a marquee.

The city has not awarded a contract on the estimated $76,000 project, which is funded in part by a $50,000 allocation from VenuWorks, the Ames, Iowa-based management firm that has a contract with the city to operate the Vicksburg Convention Center.

VenuWorks turned over management of the auditorium when city officials negotiated a new contract in 2013. The committee will examine improvements and changes to help better market the auditorium.

Flaggs said the auditorium is having more events, adding the city needs to improve it to make it a favorable venue for event.

• The board expects to lift the hiring freeze it imposed for fiscal 2014 for 10 days after the budget is approved to allow department heads to fill necessary vacancies that have been closed since the freeze was enforced.

The committee of Mayfield, Thomas, Whittington and Human Resources Director Walterine Langford will examine the lists of job openings and priorities from the department heads and determine the need for the position.

Although the committee will not look at training, Flaggs said he wants city employees to be cross-trained and able to handle other duties in their departments, and asked Whittington to include more money in the administrative travel budget to send employees to training classes.

“In every department in the city we should have two people trained for each position,” he said. “This city has a habit of shutting down when one person who does a job isn’t available and no one else can do his job.”

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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