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Letter to the Northside Sun Editor by Mayor Gene McGee

This letter from Mayor McGee was published in the Sept. 24 issue of the weekly Northside Sun in response to Wyatt Emmerich’s from the publisher dated Sept. 10.
Dear Ms. Sweat:

This letter is in response to “Ridgeland budget 50 percent greater than it could be” written by Wyatt Emmerich and published in the September 10, 2015 issue of Northside Sun.

Yes, the City of Ridgeland budget is bigger now than it was in 1990. Show me a city where exponential growth has occurred in commercial areas and population growth has doubled, and you will see a larger budget. Show me a city where the price of doing business has not increased substantially in the same number of years. Inflation, cost of living, fuel costs, all of these items affect how much it costs for us to do business just like it does in your household or your business.

In order to meet the demands of increases in population, city services must also increase. Road construction and maintenance, police and fire protection, water and sewer services, solid waste and recycling, recreation and parks, and the staff, vehicles, fuel, electricity, and equipment, to perform the duties related to those services, all must grow to meet the needs of the residents, businesses and even visitors in our city. There are also professional services fees outside of our city staff that are necessary for our city, such as engineering, design, legal and financial services.

Not only has the city grown in population, it has grown in land area. In 1990, the City of Ridgeland contained 10.8 square miles while currently, it is 21.4 square miles. City services are thus provided to more than double the area today than in 1990. Water and sewer infrastructure was extended on the western side of town to better serve the growth area. The miles of streets have increased over the same years from 87 miles to 200 miles. The number of street lights has increased from 623 to 1000. A service that we have added since the 1990s is landscaping extensively along some of the major thoroughfares in Ridgeland such as County Line Road, Lake Harbour Drive, I-55/Frontage Road, and the Roundabout at Old Agency Road and Highland Colony Parkway. The maintenance of attractive plantings and decorative elements at major intersections and roadways in Ridgeland enhance the aesthetics of our city and help to boost property values.

Over the same years, we have built the third and fourth fire stations, the police station, the public works complex, and Freedom Ridge Park. Those are just some of the more noticeable capital projects that enhance the safety, service and quality of life for our residents.

Police protection has improved over the years to better meet the demands of an urbanizing area. Back in 1991, the City of Ridgeland was providing one police officer for every 558 residents. In 2014, we were providing one police officer for every 328 residents. We are still working toward a better ratio and obviously need funding in order to add police officers to the force. We strive to provide the latest technology to our officers to aid in their responsibilities.

Over the years, we have also improved our fire insurance rating for residents. The rating dropped from a class 7 in 1991 to a class 5 in 2014, bringing savings to homeowners and businesses. Flood insurance ratings have also improved which also translates into savings for residents. Ridgeland has a flood classification of 6 which gives residents a 20 percent discount on flood insurance premiums.

We also work to maintain the integrity of our residential areas through code enforcement and that requires more staff and resources. As areas of the city age, the need for code enforcement has increased. This is an investment in the quality of our residential areas.

Not only does the city provide services for the residential population, but the city provides services to the great number of motorists who travel in and out of Ridgeland every day. Motorists travel through Ridgeland to get to work in Jackson or Madison County from the reservoir area and Rankin County and from Madison County, north of Ridgeland. Businesses, schools, and churches that choose to locate in Ridgeland also require police and fire protection, working water and sewer, and safe roadways. Ridgeland is home to a community college, three private schools, and four public schools. We have a large number of churches located throughout Ridgeland. Retail and office centers are located along Highland Colony Parkway, County Line Road, Old Canton Road, Lake Harbour Drive, Pear Orchard Road, and Highway 51, basically every significant transportation corridor in Ridgeland.

However, even with the commercial and institutional growth experienced by Ridgeland since 1990, as well as growth in population, land area, and the need for more employees, our budget has not grown at the rate stated by Emmerich. City leaders have worked consistently since I have been in office to be as conservative with taxpayers’ money as possible. We do not take any decision to spend money lightly. We consider lower cost options whenever possible. We bid projects, and the vast majority of the time, we go with the lowest bidder that can provide the work we need.

In Wyatt Emmerich’s table, Ridgeland City Expenses, he does not share accurate numbers with the readers. For example, the 1990 expenditures were $9.65 million for governmental funds instead of his stated $5.2. He did not include principal and capital outlay in his numbers. For comparison’s sake, if you took capital and principal out of the 2014 actual expenditures, it would be $25.1 million instead of his stated $29.9 for governmental funds.

Emmerich brings up the city’s proposed millage increase that would have generated an extra $500,000. This amount would have equated to $11.10 per $100,000 assessed value. Thus, if you were a homeowner in Ridgeland of a $350,000 house, you would have paid only $38.85 per year in additional taxes. And, this was the first proposed millage increase in 23 years!

Sales tax revenue over the years has helped to pay for expenditures, and we have watched the revenue grow in recent years. However, 2015 receipts are almost equal to 2014. Sales tax is currently not growing at the same rate as our expenses. That is why we were asking for the millage increase. The increase is directly related to the long term sustainability of our City.

I want to emphasize that we do run lean. Employees are doing two and three jobs – when an employee leaves, more often than not, the duties of that employee are absorbed by existing employees in order to save taxpayer money. We are constantly seeking ways to save money. We only replace vehicles when necessary. We seek ways to save costs by sharing equipment, cooperating with other jurisdictions, finding creative means of saving, and seeking grants and sponsors.

We continue to have the lowest millage rate in Madison County at 20.03. I would challenge anyone to find a lower millage rate in a city that provides the level of services that we provide in as efficient a manner as we do at the City of Ridgeland. However, like any growing city, we need the financial resources to provide services that meet the needs of our citizens and continue to provide an environment that is attractive for business, so that we can in turn, maintain our city as a wonderful place to live, work and play.

Sincerely,

Gene F. McGee, Mayor

City of Ridgeland