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City, board have major challenges ahead

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. this past week set two very ambitious goals for city government and the citizens of Vicksburg.

Wednesday, the mayor told members of the Vicksburg Warren Chamber of Commerce that the city’s form of government needs to change if Vicksburg expects to grow and improve in the future. Thursday, the mayor set a challenge for the fire department and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to have the city attain a Class 1 fire rating within five years. Both are goals that if attained can put Vicksburg in a position to become successful in the future and attract more business and industry.

The city’s form of government is 102 years old. Like its aging infrastructure, it needs to be changed. Flaggs’ biggest complaint about the present system is the lack of accountability and a chief executive to operate the city and make operational decisions on a daily basis. Currently, the city has no such chief executive. It has three people of equal authority who basically need the help of one of the other board members to get things done.

Attempts to change the city’s form of government are not new. An attempt was made during one of the administrations of former Mayor Robert Walker. Flaggs renewed the push shortly after taking office. The reason? The present form of government is inefficient and relies more on interoffice politicking.

It doesn’t matter whether the citizens want a mayor-council form of government with a full-time mayor and part-time councilmen, or a council-manager system where the city’s daily administration is handled by a full-time city manager with a part-time mayor and council, a change is needed. The issues the city faces now are becoming too complex and too important for the present board’s operations to address.

Reaching a Class 1 fire rating would be a major boost for Vicksburg, making it the only fire department in the state with that designation. Currently, there are no Class 1 departments in Mississippi. The closet two are Jackson and Southaven, which are Class 3s.

Vicksburg currently has a Class 5 rating — the same rating it has had for 31 years. Flaggs called the situation “unacceptable.” That the city has had the same rating for so long indicates that somewhere along the line someone, or some prior administrations, had become complacent.

The city’s fire department has good, well-trained firefighters and good equipment, and they need to be put in a situation where they can perform at their best and be rewarded for their hard work. A Class 1 rating will do more than bring prestige to the city. It will also reduce fire insurance costs for the residential and commercial property owners and will be a valuable tool in recruiting new business and industry to the area with a promise of lower property insurance premiums.

Making the move to a Class 1 — or even a 2 or 3 — will mean making hard decisions and possibly spending more money to ensure that the city has good water supplies and the fire department has the best equipment it needs to do its job, but the investment will be worth it.

City government and the city’s residents will have a lot to consider over the nest few months and possibly years, but the decisions reached on both a new form of government and a better fire rating can go a long way toward making Vicksburg a major city in Mississippi or a quaint village struggling to survive.