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Strategic Planning Raises More Questions than Answers for the Village of Vicksburg

By Sue Moore

Since late April the Vicksburg Village Council has been wrestling with how to move forward and set priorities for the new body that was elected in November of 2012.

To accomplish this, a grant was sought from the Vicksburg Foundation to employ Hoyle & Associates to lead the charge in the person of Kathy Hoyle, the principal of the organization.

Members of the larger community were invited to participate in evaluating strengths and weaknesses and suggest priorities in April. Current staff members met with Hoyle to work through the same and the Council members themselves went through the exercise bringing the ideas into focus through the setting of five identifiable strategies.

Hoyle referred to the Council members as having reached another level in their thinking and planning because the strategies they have selected are very forward thinking and will set a framework for growth in the coming years. “If you don’t dream, it doesn’t happen,” she declared at the most recent strategy session. “The dreaming (focus/concept for the Village in the future) had to do with the vision you developed. Now you are coming up with strategies to lay the foundation to make that vision a reality,” she said.

Thus an in-depth discussion took place at the meeting on July 10, on how to first raise more funds to provide the desired services and second, how to cut expenditures for services deemed less important.

The problem for the Council, is the indebtedness it inherited, which has interest rates, as high as five to six per cent on various loans and bonds. The need to refinance is handicapped by the state mandate that the Village has reached its ceiling for bonding and it is also requesting a plan for paying down debt first before it can re-finance.

Strategies for accomplishing this were discussed with a look toward better controls to be put in place in the central office and with the department managers. This won’t get the job done totally, but it will make for greater transparency according to Jeff Becker, one of the new council members elected in November.

There are some hold-over items from the previous Council that need to be solved before moving forward, President Bill Adams explained. One is to settle a law suit brought by the current owners of one section of the paper mill, so the whole property can be acquired and a decision made on what to do with the abandoned buildings. Most of the 60 acre property has reverted through foreclosure to the county’s land-bank fund with the exception of this central piece of the mill.

A second item the Council has been discussing during the strategic planning work sessions is what to do about charging for sewer and water hookups in the Allen Edwin development. The usual charges had been dropped by the Village Manager some time ago in order to encourage growth in the overall tax base, by more homes being built. However, it has left a large hole in the sewer fund and now needs to be corrected according to Chris Newman, the council member who has headed up this investigation.

Basic charges of $1400 for a hookup have been reinstituted along with the charge for water connection throughout the village by Council action. The members also voted to increase the base rate for all sewer usage. It is investigating whether any cost savings could be realized by having an outside agency take care of the billing and receiving of payment.

The golf course club house came into the strategic planning discussion because the Council is asking how the cost overruns on the building were being accounted for by the auditor BDO and the Village Manager. The new treasurer, Tracy Locey and Richard Dykstra have been charged with tracking down all of these expenditures and informing the Council what the real cost of the building was. This item came under the strategy to develop a business plan for the golf course. Although it is making money, council members believe it could do better if actionable goals were set in place. The course could benefit, as well as the village tax base, when the American Village Builders (AVB) starts building condos on the property they wish to.

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