January 9, 2014
first six months
Kelvin Buck spent some of the last days of 2013 looking over the accomplishments and challenges of the mayor and board of aldermen and a list of top priorities for 2014. He has been in office as mayor of Holly Springs for just over 180 days.
The four main accomplishments since the new mayor and board took office centered around taking immediate action to stabilize the financial standing of the city.
“Our main objective first was to get our fiscal house in order,” Buck said. “We really had to focus on reducing wasteful spending and controlling costs.”
He said the city reigned in the payroll costs through restructuring departments and eliminating some jobs. Those actions had immediate and will have long-range impacts on costs, he said.
He said there was not much time to waste, when the new board came in, to make some course corrections.
“It was clear we had to take steps quickly to stabilize our operation,” he said. “The board has been tremendous in their support and understanding of where we were. We actually got 95 percent of what we asked for implemented. We made some tough decisions.”
“We made some tough decisions like having employees pay 15 percent of their (health) insurance costs,” Buck said. “We had a modest increase in taxes to pay off the bond at the police station. We had to fire some people and that’s always tough. And we took a pay cut of 5 percent (the mayor and board of aldermen). All were tough decisions.”
Buck said he and the board knew there were going to be some serious financial challenges.
“But we didn’t realize how severe they were until we got in,” he said. “We have considerable indebtedness. We will continue to pay and we are always faced with rising costs in health insurance and workman’s compensation insurance.”
The mayor said, “The good side of all this, after we got this stabilized, is having new programs. We’ve been able to hire new people where we have a shift in vision and people with new attitudes who understand our vision for the city going forward.”
Buck named three individuals whom he expects will help with the vision. Willie Mallory will bring new vision to the Holly Springs Utility Department as the new customer service liaison, he said.
“He is taking a proactive position in helping people manage and pay their utility bills themselves,” he said.
Mallory will be fully trained the first of the year.
“We’ve transformed the vision of the jobs and workforce training to a job focus and industry-based strategy,” Buck said.
Betty Yates has been tasked, as director of the Jobs and Innovation Center, to help people get training and employment in the city and county.
Sanchez Blake, as assistant manager of Parks and Recreation, is tasked with building a leadership team. Buck said he sees the new direction would be to expand the role of recreation and educational activity for all the citizens of the city – the young and the seniors.
A fourth goal would be a push to clean up the city’s public properties and to encourage private property owners to do the same. He said residents and businesses will be asked to engage in cleaning up their own areas and maintaining their properties in good condition.
No one will be exempt, he said. The cleanup will be managed through zoning and through building and grounds and the street department, he said.
“Our efforts on the square are being noticed,” Buck said. “We want to brighten up and revitalize key centers of town,” he said.
The key areas he said are Memphis Street to Rust Avenue, Highway 7 South business district, and the old Walmart shopping center on Martin Luther King Drive.
Buck said he encourages the public to point out problems and other key areas that need attention.
The mayor said the attitude of the town, the residents, is changing.
“They seem to be interested in the town’s future,” he said. “Citizen involvement is higher and participation at board meetings is higher. We have the most open and transparent public government that we have had in some time. The board meetings are televised on Thursday evenings on RCTV2.
“We really appreciate Rust College for doing that. That all speaks to a new approach to government and the interacting of people with their government.”
Looking forward to 2014
Buck said some things he wants to get going on include street repair, expansion of affordable housing, improvement of public safety, modernization of the utility department, a second fire station and city beautification.
He said general funds would be used to do some of the street repairs and that state and federal funds will be sought to complement the work the city does.
“We will tackle the streets based on current revenue sources and any state and federal money we get,” Buck said. “We will not place an overwhelming debt on the residents of Holly Springs. We will do it within our means.”
Affordable housing development will be encouraged while Section 8 housing is already plenteous, he said. Buck wants to see more private developers build affordable housing such as the Murphy Lane subdivision on Highway 178 West.
He said the Mississippi Legislature passed new statutes to create health care industry zones and this action helped Murphy Lane developers to build in Holly Springs. The legislation was passed during Buck’s tenure in the House of Representatives before he won the mayoral race. Murphy Lane has two more phases and 36 units already built and taking applications for tenants.
The subdivision will bring in tax revenue immediately, he said, while the city already has enough low-income housing that does not generate much revenue for the city.
“Section 8 is something we are discouraging,” he said. “We are encouraging affordable housing, the type housing that is quality and well done, well-lighted, not as dense, and well-landscaped.
In the area of public safety, the mayor said building stability in the police force and making the force community-friendly is a first step. He said the city is trying to attract employees who will bring value to the city and a commitment to longer-term tenure on the force.
“This includes youth outreach and crime prevention (Explorer Program),” Buck said.
Eventually, the city needs a second fire station to help relieve the congestion at the one on Falconer, he said. The department will seek to attain a better fire grading so that homeowners’ insurance rates will be lowered, he said.
By the end of 2014, the city will have smart meters installed by the utility department. These meters will help the utility respond to power outages and customers to monitor usage day-to-day.
Conversion of the city’s fleet to natural gas fuel is a longer-term goal to save operational costs and to help protect the environment.
Buck said the city is attempting to involve citizens in creating the vision. This includes several advisory councils or committees. These include a mayor’s pastors’ advisory council that will help address the social needs that government cannot address. The police department has an advisory council and the Jobs and Innovation Center is seeking to establish an advisory council to find out what industry wants.
The First Ladies Tea is a private organization that seeks to bring ideas to help improve the looks of City Hall and to honor the creative role of women in the business and social life of the community.
And Main Street Chamber volunteers are helping beautify the city. Buck cited the involvement of Frances Underwood in keeping landscaping beautiful.
“People like Ms. Underwood with beautification, that just makes all the difference in the world,” the mayor said.
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