City approves $300K to match MDA grants; county officials not chipping in

Published 6:58 pm Monday, October 29, 2018

By John Surratt and Rob Sigler

The Vicksburg Post

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Thursday approved $300,000 in matching funds for two Mississippi Development Authority grants that were used to help bring Vicksburg Forest Products LLC and Unified Brands to Warren County.

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MDA committed $1 million to the Vicksburg Forest Products project and $2 million to Unified Brands with the city and/or county putting up the matches for both grants.

Mayor George Flaggs said he hoped the Board of Supervisors would pay half of each of the matches.

“I don’t have the best relationship with the county and I apologize for that,” he said. “But I think it is so imperative that we not argue over economic development and that we pay the match even if the county never pays it back.”

The supervisors have indicated they’re not interested in paying any of the matching funds.

On Monday, county administrator John Smith informed the board during their informal work session of the city’s request, which was met with those present not being in favor of paying half of the matching funds. Supervisor Charles Selmon was not present.

“He (Flaggs) wants us to pay half of the $100,000 commitment,” Smith said of the Vicksburg Forest Products project.

“The company never made a presentation to us,” Board President Richard George said. “We don’t have a request for it to start with.”

“Now that they’re here, that’s just giving money to a private (business) and that’s illegal,” Supervisor John Arnold said. “We can’t do that.”

Flaggs said getting Vicksburg Forest Products to come to the former Anderson-Tully plant site saved 125 jobs, and highlighted the 425 jobs Unified Brands in the Ceres Industrial Park was bringing to the city, adding he had no qualms about committing the city to get Unified Brands here.

“If I did something wrong by negotiating to try and get that plant (Forest Products) and saving 125 jobs and getting 425 jobs, I apologize as your mayor of the city,” Flaggs said, adding the city should not balk at supporting economic development.

“I don’t think the people sometimes get it, the relationship this administration’s got with MDA,” South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour said. “When they call and say our part or Warren County’s part; Vicksburg’s part is going to be $100,000 to save 125 jobs, and that should not even be an issue, because it’s our responsibility as elected officials to create an environment and do the things we’re supposed to do so that people here have jobs to create a tax base so we don’t have to raise taxes.

“The only way you’re going to do that is make sure people are employed here and have the ability to spend money here. And if the other side of this equation doesn’t get it, they need to, because jobs are where it’s at. And if we don’t do it, nobody else is going to do it. There’s 121 other state representatives out there that will jump on it in a minute.”

Monsour said it was time “our elected officials here understand the process we have to do to bring and save these jobs here. This administration will not let jobs leave Vicksburg any more.”

The city, he said, “Is committed to making sure that we do it. I hope our counterpart in the county gets it and jumps on board.”