By Sue Moore
“We want to take a deep dive into reducing the millage at .5 of a mill in our next fiscal year and again in 24 months,” Village Manager Jim Mallery told the Council. “Village President Bill Adams tells me every week to figure out how to lower the millage rate.”
If approved by the council in June, it would be the first time in Vicksburg’s history that the millage rate has been reduced without being required to do so by state statute, Mallery said in written comments.
The tax rate levied by the village on 2018 summer tax bills was $15.63 per $1,000 taxable valuation. The total taxable valuation was about $83 million. The village has budgeted $1.17 million from property taxes for the current fiscal year.
“As a municipal manager, I understand it is not my job, nor your expectation, that I am liked by everyone. Instead, I am charged with the expectation that I will make decisions that put our village first and that I will provide this council with information and data so that the majority can set the policy that we, as staff, are charged with executing. I am overjoyed that the audit for the first time was clean for fiscal year 2017-18 as presented by our auditors, SK&T, tonight.
“The capital improvement plan for the village has been sub-standard at best and non-existent at worst. That change begins starting tonight. Staff is recommending the establishment of a tax stabilization fund of $150,000 that will enable us to lower the millage rate [along with planning] for future capital asset needs. Our goal is to develop strategies that will avoid debt.
“I am proud that we will not be presenting any additional general fund debt obligation to this council. It is vital that we continue to invest the village’s revenue wisely, to ensure that each dollar that is entrusted to us withstands scrutiny, is ultra-transparent and has been provided an opportunity to reflect the wishes and desires of the majority,” he said in his statement.
The previous council assigned $125,000 to a municipal building in January 2018. “I am recommending that $425,000 of the unrestricted general fund balance be committed to a municipal building. This would bring the committed total to $550,000 to build a municipal building with a total estimated need of $1.4 million.
Capital improvement spending includes a proposal to allocate $85,000 for a dump/plow truck in the 2019-2020 budget. Nine other capital expenditure items totalling approximately $228,000 were projected over the next 10 years.
“In the past, the general fund has been used much like a checking account in our own personal finances,” Mallery said. “They were spending what was available. Past leaders were operating without any plans, contingencies or proper emergency funds in place. Now if we do not properly plan financially for basic needs – police and DPW vehicles, equipment and technology to name a few – the fiscal years in which the need becomes an emergency will have a dramatic negative impact on that fiscal year’s budget.”
“We are looking at how we spend money that’s transparent and organized,” said Trustee Rick Holmes. “What challenges me in talking about millage relief as our number one priority, I ask is having a new village hall the greatest priority? The previous council has voted to set aside money and I understand that, but when I talk to my constituency about tax relief, they say it’s too expensive to live in Vicksburg. Parchment City is the only municipality with a higher tax rate than Vicksburg’s. It’s priorities that are my challenge, so in this case I owe the people who voted for me to keep my word and vote no.”
“Millage rates are tricky if you are looking them up on the county’s web site,” Mallery shot back. “Look at the special assessments others have that are not included in the millage rate. We offer many services that don’t require extra assessments, like plowing sidewalks in the neighborhoods.”
Adams answered, “I respect Rick’s thinking, but we are on the right path now. This may not be enough of a millage reduction, but our capital plan is a statement of where we want to go in the future.”
“Others in municipal work must be jealous of the opportunities that are on the horizon of our journey in the village,” Mallery said.