City’s wish list shows vision for future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 4, 2015

The City of Vicksburg’s $1.1 million wish list for the 2015 session of the Legislature gives residents and the county’s legislative delegation some insight into Mayor George Flaggs Jr.’s plans for the city’s future.

Over the past year, Flaggs has on numerous occasions said he sees the city developing into a major tourist destination in the state built around Vicksburg National Military Park, which attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year. The problem, the mayor says, is the park visitors come here, they stay a day or less and then leave. He wants tourists staying longer, and $600,000 of the money he’s seeking from the state will go toward developing the strategy to get folks to stay longer.

About $100,000 of the proposed allocation would fund a feasibility study on building a museum downtown that focuses on the 47-day siege, creating a tie-in with the park and bring people downtown. Another $500,000 would go toward the completion of a museum and cultural center at the Monte Carlo building on Washington Street. Building owner Linda Fondren has been working on plans to renovate and convert the building into a multipurpose facility with a restaurant on the building’s ground floor and a cultural center featuring displays and oral histories involving the city’s cultural history.

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The final $200,000 involves an expansion of the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market at the corner of Washington and Jackson streets. The market has grown over the past few years, and Flaggs has talked about building a pavilion on the market site that can be used for other events when the market is not in operation. He wants to include Mississippi State and Alcorn State universities, the only two state universities with an extension service program in the project.

Flaggs’ wish list is ambitious, but it is not the only issue of local interest before the Legislature. And the city is not the only local government watching the activity in Jackson.

Warren County Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale said the supervisors would be watching for any bill that might force the board to raise taxes. They’ll be watching for any items affecting homestead exemptions or tax reimbursements to the local governments, or keeps in place Section 42 housing developments — a designation that allows low-income, multifamily housing complexes to be appraised at rates lower than fair market value and reduces property tax revenue to the counties.

Also set for 2015 is the second of a two-step teacher pay raise passed by the Legislature in 2014.The raise is expected to cost the state an addition $100 million over two years, but State Sen. Briggs Hopson III believes the education budget can handle it, because the raises are a separate program from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the bulk of funding for many of the state’s public school districts.

Other issues include redrawing circuit and chancery court district lines, a possible second look at Common Core education programs, and a second attempt at a law addressing using handheld devices like smart phones while driving.

Whether the mayor’s wish list, or any proposal, gets the Legislature’s blessing right now is a case of whistling in the dark. It’s going to be a long time from the opening gavel until the Legislature adjourns in April, and a lot can happen. And there are issues that could delay or put other items on the backburner, like the traditional fight over Medicare, Medicaid and mental health. It’s a time of wait-and-see, crossing fingers and possible disappointment.

The city and others have put their futures in the hands of the House and Senate. Round and round it will all go, and where it will stop, no one knows.