SURRATT: City board using wisdom, intelligence with COVID funds

Published 4:00 am Friday, August 27, 2021

I’m sitting here looking at a resolution by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen outlining plans for spending the city’s $5.6 million share of federal American Rescue Plan funds.

From what I’ve read in the resolution, the board has a good bit of leeway on how it can spend the money and from what I’ve seen in the document before me, the board’s using some sense.

The rescue funds remind me of another government program that was going on in the 1970s when I was just breaking into this business. It was called “Revenue Sharing.” The idea behind revenue sharing was very simple: return federal dollars to the local governments to use for programs and projects, like capital improvements, to improve cities and counties and make them better places to live.

Revenue sharing was “one-time money,” meaning the program was only for a short time; at some point, the bank was going to close its doors and there would be no more. Many local governments, however, ignored the fact that one day they may lose this fountain of riches and used their money to pad the payrolls by adding employees — a recurring expense that came to bite them when the program ended in the 1980s and city and county boards were forced to lay people off because they couldn’t find the money to continue paying salaries.

The members of other city and county boards were more intelligent with their “gift” from Washington and used revenue sharing funds to improve infrastructure, refurbish public buildings and improve or build parks and other recreational facilities. There are public facilities in many towns and cities that exist because of revenue sharing funds.

Now we come to what you might call the new revenue sharing (let’s get real, folks, this is our tax money funding this).

The restrictions on how the money can be used seem pretty broad and I can see the temptation for some local governments to use some or all of their funds to give employees raises to thank them for their work during COVID-19, but raises are a recurring expense and once the money’s gone, the boards that gave raises will have to struggle to meet the higher cost of salaries.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen realize that the $5.6 million in federal funds they’re receiving is one-time money and once it’s gone, it’s gone, so their decision to devote this money to education, tourism and capital improvements is a move in the right direction.

And the decision to use $1.2 million of the money to enhance education by supporting a program to teach coding to children and another to help children’s reading skills speaks volumes.

Granted, the board is not in the education business, but it can support programs to improve the education of children in the Vicksburg Warren School District, such as the United Way’s program to help children in kindergarten through third grade reach the third-grade reading level, a very important skill if they are to become successful in school and in life.

The board deserves our appreciation for showing intelligence, restraint and wisdom for its decision.

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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