Business owners offer suggestions, criticism

Published 6:17 pm Monday, August 27, 2018

Vicksburg’s Main Street Program came under criticism Friday during a public hearing on renewing the 5.05 mill property tax that supports the program.

The millage is levied on businesses inside the Vicksburg Main Street Program Taxing District and is part of Main Street’s total budget, which is supplemented by the city. The city’s supplement to Main Street in fiscal 2018 was $164,878. The millage is tax is expected to raise about $33,873 in fiscal 2019.

In the past, hearings to renew the millage received no comments from business people in the district, but Friday about 10 people from the taxing district attended the hearing.

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After Main Street Board of Directors chairman Christi Kilroy outlined the accomplishments of the Main Street program and the positive improvements downtown, several people either working or owning property in the downtown district questioned if they were getting their money’s worth from the program.

Harry Sharp, a former chairman of the Main Street board, said the improvements in the downtown area took place over a period of time, and it was time for Main Street “to take a look at itself in the mirror.”

Main Street and its board, he said, “Needs to look at what’s going on and how to be more receptive to the 400-plus Main Street members. Vicksburg is not known for being business-friendly; the Warren County Board of Supervisors is horrible as far as being business-friendly. It is so hard for somebody to come in this town and make things work.”

The county, he said, “Is taxing the mom and pop businesses out of business in downtown.”

He said he has asked the Main Street board to help the smaller businesses, “But that has not happened. There are a lot things that need to happen. I urge the executive director and the board of directors to look at what’s going on.

“Main Street is being run mainly by bureaucrats that have never had the opportunity to meet a payroll. They don’t understand what’s going on with business.”

Sharp urged the board to approve the tax.

“We need this tax and keep it going, and in the meantime, hopefully we can revamp what Main Street is doing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Alex Monsour told Sharp the board is more business-friendly and working with businesses to get more into the city. Sharp responded, “Hallelujah!”

Other people in the district discussed their problems.

Blake Morgan, who owns property in the taxing district, said he requested information about opening a business and city regulations from Main Street, adding, “A year later, I’m still waiting for that information.”

Skip Henderson, who owns property on Monroe Street, said the city needs to do something about derelict buildings downtown, citing the old Post Office building as an example. He said several windows in the building were broken and created a safety hazard.

Monsour said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen are working on new ordinances to compel property owners to repair their property.

Another person in the district asked for detailed information on Main Street, including access to its bylaws and its budget. Kilroy said she would meet with the individual.

“The board was glad to have the opportunity to again talk about the successes of the Vicksburg Main Street Program and more importantly, to listen to those who spoke at the public hearing,” Kilroy said Monday.

“Last year, nobody showed up — not one person, so this is a good indication that people are stepping up and getting more involved in their downtown. Input from the community allows us to share our work and our goals and to grow.

“We realize that there is a constant need to educate the community about our program of work, our partnerships and our successes including having the highest commercial occupancy rate in more than 20 years, record private sector investment and the number of residential units soaring.  This meeting has opened avenues of communication and we are happy to move forward together.”

The Vicksburg Main Street Program Taxing District encompasses much of downtown starting east on First East Street cutting south on Cherry Street moving east one block on China Street and continuing south on Adams Street incorporating Carr Central School and picking back up on Monroe Street. It goes north on Monroe and turns west down Bridge Street and continues east on Depot Street before it turns back north on Pearl Street and stops at the end of the street.

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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