Sunday, October 22, 2017

With CEDA everyone chips in

One of the best things we can ever have is options. Options offer a different course of action in a given situation. The primary difference between the rich and the poor is one has a multitude of options and the other is very limited. Having options can make the difference between success and failure, prosperity and poverty, or superiority and mediocrity. There is legislation that will be introduced this legislative session that can be a great benefit to cities like Vicksburg and provide a much needed option to pay for capital improvement projects such as infrastructure repairs, upgrades, or economic development projects.

The Citizens for Economic Development Act (CEDA) would allow local officials to place on the ballot a referendum that would raise a city’s sales tax by no more than 1 percent to pay for such projects. Approval will require a 60 percent majority and the project would have to be specified on the ballot. Passing this legislation would mean putting power back in the hands of the people of a community. There are lots of needs in Vicksburg, but the challenge is finding a way to pay for such ventures. The answer currently is issuing a bond or raising taxes. According to Kosciusko Mayor Jimmy Cockcroft, “people usually don’t want to pay higher property taxes and a local sales tax would provide money for projects”. He is absolutely correct in my opinion. The problem with raising property taxes is that everyone doesn’t own property and only a percentage of people are contributing to footing the bill. Wesson Mayor Alton Shaw stated his town needs about $500,000 for road pavement. He estimated a property tax would generate about $20,000 a year, but a 1 percent sales tax increase from his tax base would bring about $100,000. With a sales tax increase, everyone chips in. Whether you are purchasing a house, car, or hamburger, taxes from your purchase will contribute to paying off the cost of a project.


Passing this bill would be a great benefit for cities. Under current state law, cities must go to the Legislature on a case-by case basis to seek approval for a local sales tax increase. Some cities have been successful and some have not. This also can be a long process that often hinders production. Why not allow the residents of a city decide when to invoke a tax increase for projects that they deem necessary? Why borrow money over a twenty-year term for projects with a 10-year life? Why continue to put off improvements that need attention now?

It is always good to have options. CEDA is a very low risk option and it can help Vicksburg make improvements without creating any new debt. The best thing about this is when the project is complete, the tax goes away. I read where some lawmakers are making excuses about the tax not being fair to out-of-town residents. The point of a sales tax is to make money from purchases. I know many people that patronize Monroe, Louisiana at their tax rate of 9.99% and their economy is doing well. People will always pay for good products and excellent service. Levying a temporary 1% tax to pay for specific projects makes sense if your goal is being efficient, responsible, and proactive. The best thing about options is that you may never utilize them, but there is a comfort in knowing you can act when the need arises. I encourage you to learn more about this bill and get involved. Your legislators want to hear from you.


Alderman Willis Thompson
Follow Alderman Thompson on Twitter @AldermanWillisT



FOCUS ON FINANCE

The current administration is faced with challenges such as: restoring the bond rating, repairing an aging infrastructure, recruiting business in a slowly recovering economy, and making sound decisions to position Vicksburg for a promising future. Effectively managing the city’s finances is very important in moving the City in the right direction.

This Board has been focused on sound decision making and looking for ways to save money. One of the first decisions the Board made was instituting a hiring freeze. This move provides an opportunity to evaluate each department and make necessary changes that could improve continuity within departments. It was discovered that 70% of the general fund revenue was being spent on personnel. This is not surprising seeing the services the City offers, but there is still a need to do more with less when possible. Department heads were asked to operate on level funding when the current budget was prepared and there is a commitment by this administration to stop wasteful spending.

The Board has also implemented an advertisement and appropriations policy that will give the City more structure and set guidelines on advertisement spending. Renegotiating the contract with VenuWorks and taking over the management of the Auditorium will show substantial savings for the City. The City is utilizing technology to save money by implementing a vehicle management system in all city vehicles. This system tracks the speed of the vehicle, idling time, and tracks the stops of all vehicles. There has already been a savings discovered along with a decrease in fuel costs. The Board recently voted 3-0 to create a reserve fund that will be operated separately from the general fund. There will be a policy created that will govern how those funds will be used. This move can be beneficial to possibly increasing the bond rating because it will show that there are available funds on hand.

Effectively managing finances will ensure there are funds available for much needed improvements such as: beautification projects, road paving, etc. Restoring the bond rating will ensure the City is able to borrow funds and participate in grant programs that may become available. One thing the citizens of Vicksburg can be assured of is that the City is moving FORWARD and this administration will be conservative with your tax dollars.

Alderman Willis Thompson
 

Follow Alderman Thompson on Twitter @AldermanWillisT

11On Friday I got the opportunity to go to the State Fire Academy for elected officials’ day. This day is set aside for elected officials to get a closer look at what trainees have to endure in order to become firemen. The day started with classroom sessions about the organization of the fire department along with visits from state officials including our Insurance Commissioner Mike Cheaney. Later that afternoon we got the opportunity to dress out into full fire gear and enter into a burning building to put out a firedf. The gear with the oxygen tank put on about an extra 50-75lbs and it is very expensive. Everything has to be installed exactly right in order to ensure the safety of the firefighter in order for them to be successful and saving a life. I have always had respect for those who put their own safety at risk in order to save others, but I got a closer look at the danger involved in the job of the firefighter. When I entered the heat house, everything was completely dark. We had to feel our way around and then all of sudden we had a close encounter with the fire. This simulation required the firefighters to be focused the entire time and panicking would have only turned out in disaster and in a real life situation, a fatality. It takes a special person to take on this kind of job and to make a career of this profession. I would like to give a warm thank you to the men and women who serve our community. I appreciate your sacrifice and service. 

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Alderman Willis Thompson