Sports complex a top priority for Flaggs

Published 11:30 am Friday, August 29, 2014

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. wants a sports complex for Vicksburg.

“I am absolutely determined to do a sports complex and fund it. I believe we can do it with some creative financing,” he told the Vicksburg Rotary Club Thursday afternoon.

Flaggs’ comments came as he discussed his funding ideas for improving the city. He gave a similar address to the Port City Kiwanis Club Thursday morning, telling both organizations it will take innovative and aggressive thinking if Vicksburg is going to move forward, and grow and improve.

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“If you want this city to look like Clinton, Ridgeland, Madison, Pearl, all those cities you drive through that look so good, then we’re going to have to look at some things in the future,” he said. “That is, we’re going to have to look at capital improvements, and the money for capital improvements is not going to come from the general fund. We’re going to have to look at bonding.

“Capital improvements will be stretched over a period of time,” he said. “We’re going to have to go shopping if we’re going to borrow money. If you want to look like Louisville (Ky.), Little Rock, Ark., all those cities you want to look like, have the amenities and then include a sports complex, you have to think about how you’re going pay for it.”

Flaggs said Warren County needs to participate in paying for the sports complex, because “we are all the county. If the county doesn’t agree with me, we’ve got to do something (else).”

Besides money for a sports complex, he said, the city will have to find funds to pay for what he said was an estimated $60 million in capital improvements for the city’s aging infrastructure, improvements to city buildings and existing recreation facilities, technology upgrades and paving projects.

About $15 million of that total, he said, is to assess, repair and replace the city’s 107-year-old sanitary sewer system. The city is under a consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency to have the sewer system repaired and upgraded by 2024.

“We’re going to have to go shopping (for financing),” he said. “It is absolutely necessary that we do that, because it we don’t — and I don’t plan on raising taxes — you will not grow this city. We are going to have to take a risk. You’ve got to be bold, you’ve got be innovative. I want to move forward. If you stand still, you’ll get run over, so let’s try (and move).”

Looking at other matters, Flaggs said he wants to institute a performance-based budget system to get a better handle on city finances and costs.

“I think it’s so important and necessary that we use performance-based budgeting like we did at the state. You can’t budget if you don’t have a true picture,” he said.

Under performance-based budget, he said, “we make certain that you get what you pay for. Every dime is accountable and you set benchmarks.”

He said the city’s budget is faced with two challenges, reducing personnel costs and getting away from using gaming revenue as part of the city’s general fund revenue stream.

He said employee salary and benefits account for 73 percent of the budget, adding, “it’s difficult to run the city when you have that much overhead.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in July raised the minimum wage for its employees from $7.25 and hour to $8 an hour.  For every $8 employee, he said, “it’s costing us $13 and something because of fringes.”

Under Affordable Care Act regulations, he said, the city’s cost for employee health insurance is about $300,000 this year, based on a cost of $65 per enrollee, not employee, “because you have to take in consideration of your dependents and that has to be factored in.”

He said the board has not touched the employee benefits.

He said gaming revenue, which has declined in the past seven years, makes up about 18 percent of the general fund’s revenue, a drop from 25 percent in previous years.

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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