SURRATT: Animal shelter needed, but so are other city projects

Published 4:00 am Friday, October 7, 2022

By the time you read this column, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen will have rejected the two bids for the proposed animal shelter and authorized (or will authorize) City Clerk Walter Osborne to re-bid the project.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. announced the special meeting to reject the bids at a public meeting on Wednesday to discuss financing the shelter after the two bids for the project came in over the shelter’s proposed $1.67 million budget. The lowest bid was more than $100,000 over budget, while the second was almost $2 million.

Besides the mayor’s announcement about the bids, other issues came from the meeting — many people are angry and upset that the city failed to move on the animal shelter several years ago when it was first discussed. Additionally, the board appears reluctant to use the $2 million reserve fund and raising property taxes or using American Recovery Plan Act money to fund the project are not an option.

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While I’m sure the debate over the need for a new animal shelter has been going on longer than the 11 years I’ve lived in Vicksburg, the most recent hard push for a new shelter, according to a check of our digital archives, began in 2019, when the mayor said at a July budget work session, “We are going to make building a new animal shelter a priority.”

The comment came in response to a request for a new shelter from Animal Control Director Kacie Lindsey.

Since that budget meeting, city officials have scouted potential sites for a new shelter and discussed a public/private partnership. It’s only now that, after the property was donated for a shelter and an architect hired to design it, the city is ready to (hopefully) move forward. Only time will tell if and when a new shelter will be built.

But in the overall scheme of things when we consider the city’s other ongoing and future projects, the shelter is not a top priority.

When a stray animal or a neighbor’s dog gets out and terrorizes a neighborhood like Fostoria or Chambers Street, a few people will call and complain. If one day the residents of these neighborhoods wake up and brown water or no water comes out of their faucets or raw sewage backs up into their homes, everyone’s going to complain.

The city is under an Environmental Protection Agency mandate to video and map and repair, replace and upgrade the city’s 115-year-old sewer system over 10 years. The repair work is costing the city about $1 million a year and is funded by a state loan. Over the next few years, the city will have to replace lead waterlines under an EPA mandate and metal natural gas lines under a U.S. Department of Transportation mandate. The city is also preparing to begin a $4 million paving program to improve city streets, another part of the city’s infrastructure. The city’s police and fire departments are short-handed and trying to hire.

These are all issues the city is dealing with as it tries to deal with funding an animal shelter.

We can all agree that a new shelter is necessary, but at the end of the day what most people want is to turn on the faucet and have clean water, have good streets and drainage and feel safe in their homes.

Hopefully, the city will find a way to provide those services and afford to build a new shelter.

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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