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Supervisor Barfield talks taxes, community development

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Kelle Barfield
Kelle Barfield in her downtown Vicksburg bookstore, Lorelei Books.

“One of my favorite things about being a supervisor is really understanding how our local government operates,” District 5 Supervisor Kelle Barfield said.

It is a labyrinthian puzzle that county supervisors navigate, balancing needs with resources to ensure that our tax dollars are working to benefit the community in real, lasting ways. Recently, Supervisor Barfield sat down with the Vicksburg Daily News to discuss some of those processes and share updates on various projects that the board is working on such as the riverfront park, a new fire station, and county road improvements.

A point of pride for Barfield is the board’s commitment to stable millage rates, ensuring that citizens will not have to pay more in ad valorem taxes on their homes, automobile tags, utilities, business fixtures and rental properties. Keeping taxes low is a priority for all of the supervisors, naturally, because it is in the best interest of the citizens they represent.  At the same time, the costs associated with maintaining public facilities and infrastructure, like everything else, continues to rise.

“We know there are so many needs here in Warren County and yet, we don’t want to raise people’s taxes if we don’t have to,” Barfield said. “We really work hard to be very good stewards and look at how we can use the [tax] dollars to support the greatest good.”

The Warren County Board of Supervisors is currently operating with projected total budget revenue of $41, 578, 491. Of that amount, 67% is financed through a total ad valorem tax levy of 117.77 mills.  In order to keep millage steady, supervisors have worked diligently to secure grants and other funding in order to not only maintain Warren County’s public assets but also to make improvements and promote growth in the community.

“Warren County got approximately $8.8 million in the American Rescue Plan Act in addition to what was given to the state, and ultimately through our state legislature, was given to Warren County, through the infrastructure bill and some other sources of funding,” Barfield explained.

Funds from federal grants and state allotments create immense opportunities, but they also come with restrictions on how and when the money can be used. There are lengthy processes built in to ensure accountability and compliance.  As the old adage goes, the wheels of government turn slowly.

“What happened, however, is that in January the U.S. Treasury…loosened up considerably those rules. They enabled us, for example, to use those ARPA dollars on things like roads and bridges,” Barfield explained. “It’s a one-time opportunity to invest, what I really see as an investment, in a paving plan. If we can invest some of these dollars in improving the roads, then we can spend the budget dollars we have on other needs.”

road paving vehicle

The board has developed a two-year paving plan and has already set the wheels in motion toward that goal. In their last meeting, the board authorized to advertise for bids on the project and expect to select a contractor by a vote in mid-June. At that point, they will work with the contractor to finalize the most efficient order of various roads that have been targeted to be addressed with either overlay, spot paving or paving.

“In addition the paving plan and the ability to use the ARPA dollars to provide improvements and needed maintenance for the maximum number of people in the county as possible, another example would be some very important maintenance attention given to our health department.”

Barfield says the Warren County Health Department is due for upgrades to its HVAC system and IT infrastructure, both of which are very costly yet essential for the facility to provide quality care services to residents.

Another project that the board has taken on is finally addressing the courthouse wall. An initial cost assessment that included all four defining walls of the courthouse came in at $2 million.

“So, we applied for a Department of Archives and History grant.  We did not get a whole lot but we did get some funding through the state for that, but then Senator Hopson and other state officials, knowing how important our historic assets are, they were able to send to Warren County some of the state’s dollars.  So now we’ve got 3 quarters of a million dollars to go toward the repair of, initially, just the north and west walls.”

Barfield explained that the architect will work with historic restoration experts to calculate a new cost assessment for the repair and then, she said, “we’ll see how far that money goes.”

The county was also able to secure funding for a new fire station in the Bovina area, an improvement that will bolster emergency response capabilities as well as impact the insurance rating – effectively lowering insurance costs for residents in that area.

“Thanks to the State Fire Marshall and Insurance Commissioner Mike Cheney and, again, state legislators we were able to get money…that enabled them to take what was originally a $600,000 estimate to build a new facility, and instead they were able to identify an existing structure for an initial investment of only about $75,000 of the fire department’s funds, and build a satellite facility.”

Golding park

The property donated by the Goldings, at Oak and Lee in Vicksburg. Photo by David Day

A renewed cooperation between Warren County and the City of Vicksburg is another catalyst for growth and improvement in our community.  One of the most recent examples of the partnership is the Riverfront Park project.

“The Golding family was incredibly gracious to this community in offering to donate gorgeous land to relocate the site.  Now we have to get the official approval from the federal government because it was part of a grant that put the first riverfront park there.  So that’s another example of having to go through slow, methodical steps to get there.  Meanwhile, the city and county boards agreed to get some community input.”

Each official selected a member for an advisory committee, for a total of eight, who will take a look at each of the conceptual designs that have been drafted, analyze the cost of different elements against their potential benefits and formulate some recommendations to be brought back before the two boards.

“They might say ‘here is what you can do with $6 million, but if you don’t have $6 million, here is our recommendation for a priority implementation’ and maybe you phase it in, maybe you look for public-private partnerships.”

With the committee’s feedback, county and city leaders will work together to formulate a finalized plan and budget for the new park.

Each of these projects is going to take some time to come to fruition, but they are exciting improvements to look forward to.  In the meantime, the Warren County Board of Supervisors will continue to work toward creating opportunity and laying a foundation for a vibrant, prosperous community.

“We are constantly looking for how we can bring resources, show our good faith and interest in growth in Warren County and then working with state and local officials to try and attract the investment.”

Copyright © 2022 Vicksburg Daily News.

Vicksburg Daily News