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Cost of accidents weighing on city finances

Escalating out-of-pocket costs to repair or replace damaged city vehicles has the Board of Mayor and Aldermen looking for answers.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said with less than two months remaining in the current fiscal year, the city has so far paid $126,739 to repair or replace vehicles damaged in wrecks during the year.

The total is $42,411 more than the estimated $84,328 the city paid out for wrecked vehicles in 2018, and $107,956 more than 2014, when the city’s out-of-pocket costs were about $18,782, according to city records.

“We’ve had too many vehicle accidents by employees,” Flaggs said at Thursday’s board meeting. “We had 13 vehicle accidents in 2019. If you can’t drive, we need to start training people how to drive. We’ve had absolutely and emphatically too many vehicle accidents in 2019.

“We’re either going to have to send you back to driving school or you’re going to have to stop driving our vehicles.”

Most of the wrecks, he said, involved police department cars, adding, “I’m not blaming anybody.”

Flaggs said he was going to get the city’s safety committee to examine ways to train city employees to be better drivers.

He said another problem is the $25,000 deductible the city has in its insurance plan.

South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour, who has been examining ways to reduce the city’s deductible, said in 2014, the city increased the deductible to $25,000 for cars. The deductible for heavy equipment is $5,000.

“At that time, the claims were only $18,000 in 2014, so I guess they justified it because it was saving money,” he said. “It reduced the premium by $32,000 at that time.”

But claims began escalating in subsequent years, Monsour said, adding, “It just kept getting higher.” According to city records, the city paid $43,747 in claims in 2015, $33,767 in 2016 and $59, 560.13 in 2017.

Flaggs said the value of the police cars is less than the deductible, “so we are totaling those cars for replacement.”

The city purchases its vehicles through the state of Mississippi’s purchasing program, which allows local governments to buy vehicles for less than the public can from dealers.

According to the state Department of Finance and Administration’s police vehicle purchasing list, a police package Dodge Charger, similar to the cars Vicksburg officers drive, costs $21,289.

Chevrolet Tahoes, which are driven by the police department chief, Flaggs, Monsour and North Ward Aldermen Michael Mayfield are $34,450 through state purchasing.

The increasing claims, Monsour said, have created two problems for the city.

“We’re not saving money anymore, and two, we need to address the issue of what’s going on with these vehicles,” he said.

“We are addressing it,” Monsour said. He said the city will be sending employees to defensive driving courses, and he is also examining reducing the insurance deductible, “because we are incurring all the expenses out-of-pocket, which is not doing us any good.”

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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