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2021 Municipal Candidate Questionnaire: Heritage Guild of Vicksburg & Warren County

The Heritage Guild of Vicksburg & Warren County recently asked candidates for Mayor and South Ward Alderman for their position on historic preservation.

The Heritage Guild is a volunteer organization established in 2016 and open to all to join their efforts to champion the community’s historical assets. The guild also asked North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield to respond to the questionnaire. Mayfield won re-election in the North Ward Alderman primary election on April 27.

Both candidates for South Ward Alderman, incumbent Alex Monsour and Vickie Bailey, responded. 

Michael Mayfield submitted his responses after the May 31 deadline, but they are listed below.

Mayoral candidates Troy Kimble, Daryl Hollingsworth and incumbent Mayor George Flaggs, Jr. responded.

QUESTIONS:

Question 1:

The Main Street program and the Architectural Review Board have been integral in Vicksburg’s preservation efforts for over thirty years. However, these two programs are not keeping pace with 21st century best practices for historic preservation. A preservation professional employed by the City can initiate such programs: comprehensive preservation plan, disaster plan, liaison with developers/contractors on city ordinances, and grant writing. The position can support the existing Main Street Program and the City Historic Preservation Board to move beyond that of review/ implementing city guidelines to one which is more focused and engaged in developing and sustaining preservation efforts for our community.

Would you support a professional preservation staff position?

Incumbent Mayor George Flaggs Jr: Absolutely. As I’ve said in the past, I’m in support of a preservation position to be employed in our Community Development Department within the City of Vicksburg.

Mayoral Candidate Daryl Hollingsworth: Whereas the Main Street Program and Architectural Review Board have been instrumental in preservations efforts in our City, we can do better. The current Design Guidelines need to be reviewed, updated and made more yes-oriented. We have to make historic property owners feel comfortable coming to us with their building plans. According to feedback from some of our State Main Street Programs, property owners are more willing to comply with the guidelines when they are not being told what they cannot do with their buildings, but what they can be doing with their buildings. A simple rewording can go a long way in dealing with our historic property owners. Instead of threatening to tear down buildings, why are we not guiding these owners to the proper resources to help them? The city is focused on the wrong aspect of our Historic Buildings. Why in the world are they harassing property owners over awnings when we have historic buildings that have plastic hanging in the windows to hide molding walls due to leaking roofs. The City’s inspection department needs to be properly trained to address these issues in the proper manner and not by dragging property owners to court over awnings. It’s time to make a change and redirect our focus to the proper areas.

Mayoral Candidate Troy Kimble: As mayor, I would emphatically support a professional preservation staff position. I believe this person would be an asset to work as the liaison between the City of Vicksburg and the public and/or private sectors. This position would assist the current Main Street Program and build upon the much-needed partnerships of all involved to adequately take care of the precious historic resources. Vicksburg’s rich heritage and tourism of our historic properties is a staple for our economy.

Incumbent South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour: I need to investigate to see if there is a need for such a staff position. Currently, those needs are fulfilled by the private sector, the Board of Architectural Review who does a great job, and city employees in the Community Development Department. There is a hiring freeze in place due to limited funds, so I would need to determine the cost-benefit of hiring an additional staff person.

South Ward Alderman Candidate Vickie Bailey: I would not support a professional preservation staff position. However, I do, and I will support the Main Street Program and the Architectural Review Board’s efforts to help build community appreciation for our historic resources and significant architecture, to retain our charm, and tell the story about Vicksburg. The city’s Community Development Department is already in place for this purpose. Once again, we must utilize what we already have. In addition, there is a wealth of resources that are readily available to assist Vicksburg and organizations such as this one with assistance, training, and funding to aid in developing and sustaining preservation efforts for our community.

Incumbent North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield: I believe the Main Street program and the Architectural Review Board have been great for the City of Vicksburg in fostering the history of Vicksburg as a whole. However, I believe at the same time, we need to evaluate and implement a plan that merges our progressive endeavors in the direction of where we want the City of Vicksburg to go from here. Then the Board, as a whole can execute an effective plan to vet out any hindrances. Whereas, we may have one person dedicated to the whole problem I can’t say at present. Right now I’m not certain that it should be a staff position through the City but I’m open to making sure that we do whatever is necessary to move this problem forward.

Question 2

What will be your top two priorities to ensure the preservation and maintenance of historic properties, both city-owned and privately-owned historical properties that are in disrepair or in danger of being demolished?

Flaggs: If elected, it will be my priority to ensure city-owned properties and privately-owned properties that are in danger of being demolished are properly maintained and/or repaired as needed.

Hollingsworth: There are several Non-Profit Historical Preservation entities that provide resources to help property owners. With the passage of the new legislation allowing residential properties to qualify for Historic Tax credits and the increased tax abatement program implemented by the city and county in the central business district and the historic preservation district, we should start to see an increase in residential property restoration. We just need to guide these property owners to the proper resources to help them and make sure our building inspectors are properly trained. 

Kimble: These historic properties not only tell the stories of our past but enhances efforts to secure our future in tourism. These efforts go hand in hand to economically support a better quality of life in Vicksburg. Efforts to reduce blight and litter along with beautifying not only our historic properties but the entire city is a step in the right direction. 

Monsour:  1. Adopt Vacant Building Ordinance requiring owners to register vacant buildings with the city, require insurance, local contact person, floor plans and fees for noncompliance

2. The city is mandated by law to maintain its historic structures. We are currently renovating portions of the Community Development Building and have invested millions in the Historic Depot building. We will continue to maintain city-owned properties as required by law. For privately owned properties, we will pursue demolition by neglect with the assistance of the MS. Dept. of Archives and History.

Bailey: First things first, I plan to reinstate a Grant Administrator/Writer position for the City of Vicksburg to be proactive in acquiring additional funding sources to enable Vicksburg in moving progressively forward. Currently, Vicksburg operates by using Continuation Grants. However, the City only taps into a limited funding source when there are so many other funding sources readily available that would tremendously benefit this community at large. Secondly, I intend to promote historical awareness and educational opportunities for our youth, adults, officials and stakeholders, which would serve as a means of identifying buildings and highlighting their historical, cultural and architectural significance to our community. As a collaborative effort, we can make an assessment, raise awareness, and meet historical preservation guidelines.
Given that many residents in Vicksburg have not toured our city, I suggest offering tours to our residents to help build awareness and appreciation for our historic resources and significant architecture. Thereby, saving and restoring historic buildings allows us to keep examples of craftsmanship active and relevant in the 21st century.

Mayfield: Vicksburg has an autonomous board that works hand-in-hand with historic preservations. I  believe that we need to continue building rapport with that board while ensuring that the historic properties, whether they’re public or private are thoroughly observed to decide whether they’re in a state where they can be repaired or if they’re in a state where they need to be demolished. As a city official, I believe it is a priority to ensure that this board always does the right and proper thing at that present time.

Question 3

Would you support the establishment of a fund to incentivize historic preservation? These funds may provide funding for maintaining historic properties owned by the city, public-private partnerships, and grant research.

Flaggs: In my mind, we already have these funds available and those funds can be requested by the Vicksburg Heritage Guild. If you present me with a budgeted proposal, I’d be more than happy to look at it and see how it can be incorporated to incentivize historic preservation (as long as it doesn’t include raising taxes). 

Hollingsworth: The new legislation allowing a residential property to qualify for Historic Tax Credits will go a long way towards incentivizing preservation in our state. The City and County have partnered together to increase the opportunities for the tax abatement program in the central business district and the historic preservation district. On top of that, I would like to see programs implemented like the Slavic Village Recovery Project and The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation to help revitalize our crumbling neighborhoods.

Kimble: (Continued from previous) This direction much begins with our leadership supporting such programs and ensuring the protection of these properties. Proper enforcement against attempts to destroy or deface not only our historic properties but any further degradation of the overall cleanliness of our city is imperative.

Monsour: City is limited in what it can legally do regarding private property. Through Main St., we have supported the facade grant and sprinkler grant for historic buildings. Additionally, we have allocated funding to the Heritage Guild pursuant to local and private legislation. We can match grant funds or other funding to a nonprofit. However, I am not aware that we can set up a fund to inventorize the historical preservation of private property.

Bailey: Yes, I would support the establishment of a fund to incentivize historic preservation in the city of Vicksburg.
As a non-profit, the Historic Preservation Heritage Guild of Vicksburg Warren (HGVW) currently qualifies for tax-exempt status. Thus, working with developers to preserve historical buildings through adaptive reuse may qualify the HGVW organization and developers for additional tax breaks and exemptions to help defray costs associated with anticipated renovation projects.
As your next Southward Alderwoman, the HGVW can be certain that I will work with you to identify a tax plan and/or matching funds that will assist in saving and restoring historical buildings.

Mayfield: The City of Vicksburg’s Community Development Department is currently working through the  Board of Architectural Review to maintain historic properties from a government perspective. As it relates to supporting the establishment of a fund to incentivized historic preservation, I want to say firsthand that all funds that are directed toward any properties owned by the city, public-private partnerships, or grant research need to be thoroughly reviewed by all parties and then decide from their best practice. This should be used to foster the incentives of historic preservation.

Question 4

The increase in litter is destroying the character of our historic community and deterring tourism, economic growth and quality of life for residents. What solutions would you initiate to address the problem?

Flaggs: The City of Vicksburg spends more than $240,000 annually to prevent and clean up litter. As Mayor, I will continue to spend those funds accordingly and if given a specific proposal, I’d be more than happy and honored to strengthen those efforts.

Hollingsworth: The citizens of Vicksburg did an amazing job coming together for Earth Day on April 22nd. It was amazing to see the number of volunteers that turned out for the event. I spent half the day myself picking up trash between Mission and the Military Park. The amount of trash was horrendous. We need to assess how community service is being utilized, increase and enforce fines for littering. That being said, we need the proper leadership to increase the pride our citizens have in our community.

Kimble: This undertaking will make our city more attractive to display our unique historical properties to our tourists. A successful campaign to embrace collaborative efforts to presently maintain and repair our historic properties will improve the growth of our economic future. I look forward to the opportunity to bring these programs to fruition.

Monsour: This issue needs to be addressed in a county-wide campaign to educate and re-train people of the importance of throwing trash in proper receptacles and not on the ground. This should start in preschool or kindergarten. Community Service crews will continue to pick up trash in the city.

Bailey:

To address the problem of litter destroying the character of our city, we will take corrective measures to enhance the quality of our community. It is disheartening to acknowledge that we have a litter problem in the city of Vicksburg. Nevertheless, we will assess and address this issue aggressively as a community. 

Establish a Litter Campaign that would include, but not limited to the following: 

  • Enforcement of existing Ordinances with legal fines. 
  • Arrange routine public clean-up drives throughout City and County.  
  • Educate the youth and adults about the importance of cleanliness and sanitation. 
  • Evaluate and reassess the existing recycling program. 

I propose to utilize earmark revenue from litter fines to support sustainability efforts for the Heritage Guild of Vicksburg Warren. “Clean is Beautiful!”  

Mayfield: The character of our historic community has always been an important factor in our city when it comes to tourism and economic growth. We have also noticed the increase of litter throughout this city and even in our surrounding areas. For this reason, the City of Vicksburg is partnering with several agencies to have cleanup days throughout the year. These events include Earth Day and two major community cleanups every year in the city. The City of Vicksburg also has both,  the Community Service Department and the Right-of-Way Department who are tasked daily with picking up trash and other debris throughout our city.