Vicksburg Mayor: ARPA funds did not influence police department cuts

Published 5:50 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

When the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget, the Vicksburg Police Department was cut by $570,033 compared to the department’s 2023 budget.

The cuts come at a time when the city is experiencing a violent year with nine homicides since Jan. 1, and the board has been criticized for not raising police pay to hire more officers and retain veterans.

One question that arose in the wake of information on how the city disbursed its American Recovery Plan Act funds is whether the police budget was cut because of the equipment the city bought with ARPA funds for the department.

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According to city records, the city spent $1.03 million under an item called “city projects,” which included approximately $602,000 in multiple equipment purchases for the police department, including $171,000 for six police cars and $285,305 for police body cameras. One of the major requests from the police department during budget hearings in August was $620,000 for new cars.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said the budget cuts were not influenced by the ARPA funds because the ARPA funds involved capital, or equipment, purchases. “And from what I understand, it won’t have anything to do with the operation and effectiveness of the police department. (ARPA funds) never entered into the budget at all; ARPA never affected it.”

This year’s budget for VPD is $5,677,384.

As for the department’s budget request for cars, Flaggs said the city is still going to order police cars, “But we’re going to buy them as we need them and they will be paid out of this year’s budget.”

He said the police department’s request for cars was cut because “What we (the board) found out is that we had more cars than police. You didn’t need that many police cars. I think it’s five more police cars now than you’ve got drivers right now.

“The police have got everything they need to operate,” Flaggs added. “All they need to do now is execute.”

Concerning police department hiring and pay, Flaggs said the city is preparing to hire four part-time surveillance personnel for the city’s new camera system, but said there is nothing in this year’s budget for increasing officer pay.

Increasing salaries for police officers and claims that the city has some of the lowest paid officers in the state has been pushed occasionally by some residents during city board meetings and Flaggs question and answer session and more recently at a public hearing on the budget.

According to the website, the starting pay for officers in Vicksburg ranges between $35,978 to $44,700 per year. According to a 2022 survey of first responder salaries, the average starting salary for a police officer in a city with a population of 10,000 to 24,999 people — including Vicksburg — is $39,779.

When the city introduced its 2-percent pay adjustment in April, Flaggs said, “We changed the pay scale. Every year they (employees) get 20 cents; every employee gets 20 cents for every year (they’re employed). And when you get up to 10 years, you get 50 cents on the anniversary date. So there’s a built-in pay raise.”

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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