Public quiet on city’s 2020 budget

Published 5:54 pm Friday, September 6, 2019

There were no questions and no comments from the audience Thursday night as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen presented its proposed $29.375 million fiscal 2020 budget with a 3 percent across-the-board raise for employees and no tax increase.

About 20 people, consisting mainly of city employees and department heads, attended the public hearing in the boardroom of the Robert M. Walker Building.

“I have never, never felt better about a budget in my 32 years of doing budgets,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “This budget speaks for itself.

“This budget, in my opinion, has more vision in it than any budget I’ve seen, especially when you’re dealing with a town of this size with a population of about 25,000 people,” he said.

Flaggs outlined the new construction in the city, starting with the new Popeye’s on Clay Street and including the $83 million Vicksburg Warren School District renovation and building projects, and the YMCA expansion.

“This new construction is the future of Vicksburg,” he said. “That is the best thing I’ve ever seen for this city. This is money being invested in your city. The past and the future of Vicksburg couldn’t be clearer, and this budget illustrates that.”

Looking at the budget, divisions receiving the largest allocations were public safety, $15.6 million; general government, $7.6 million; public works, $3.56 million; and recreation, $2.02 million.

Flaggs said the city’s budget reflected 97 percent of the previous year’s budget, adding an additional 25 percent was cut across the board to make up for the loss of about $1.4 million in revenue from the devaluation of Entergy’s Baxter Wilson power plant, which is no longer operating at full capacity.

City finance director Doug Whittington said the devaluation of Baxter Wilson dropped the city’s revenue from utility assessments by $29.3 million, from $74.4 million in fiscal 2019 to $45.1 million in fiscal 2020.

The city’s overall assessed value of property fell by $34.2 million from $324.6 million in 2019 to $290.4 million.

Flaggs said the city cut donations and advertising. He said the $100,000 discretionary fund he and the aldermen had each received annually was cut this fiscal year to $75,000 each.

“We reduced health care (costs),” he said, adding the city through it in-house clinic has saved $300,000 by better monitoring the health of employees and their families.

The city also raised the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour, and set a policy that positions open for more than 60 days will not be filled.

“If you haven’t filled a position in 60 days, it means someone is doing that job,” Flaggs said.

For one year, no full-time positions will be created requiring the city to pay into the Public Employees Retirement System, and the city will use temporary workers to reduce costs in the public works department.

No new projects for 2020 unless it is an emergency. The budget will be dedicated to completing current projects. The exception is projects funded by the capital improvements bond issue approved by the city in 2015.

No additional sponsorships or advertising will be added to the fiscal 2020 budget.

Flaggs said the city in fiscal 2019 paid $306,000 in advertising and $800,000 in donations to various organizations. It has been cut to $250,000

“It’s a good thing while it lasts, but you can’t keep on doing it, the same old thing. Everybody comes to us for sponsorship,” he said. “When you do the budget, you have to learn to say ‘no,’ because no is best for the team. You can’t to the city and think it’s an ATM.

“We’ve got to say no. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong, that doesn’t mean we’re passing. We’re being fiscally responsible. You’ve got to think of the future.”

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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