State of The city
Posted on: February 3, 2021
On February 2, 2020 Mayor Johnny Magee addressed The Laurel City Council on The State of The City. You can read The Mayors speech in its entirety below.
In accordance with Mississippi Code 21-8-17, which states that the Mayor shall annually report to the council and public on the work of the previous year and on the condition and requirements of the municipal government, I report to you on the State of the City of Laurel, MS for the year 2020.
Thank you to the Council for allowing me to present the State of the City to you and the public. I know that most of this is boring facts and figures, but State law says I am to do it so please bear with me for a few minutes, I will try to be brief.
Last year in March, we were introduced to and reacquainted with several words, like pandemic, face masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, disinfectant, bleach, nose swabs, vaccine, gloves, thermometers, hand washing, no coughing, headaches, runny nose, body aches, ventilators, ICU, Zoom, virtual, Lysol, tissue, paper towels, closures, no school, cancellations, quarantine, limited seating, no indoor dining, NBA playing in the bubble, and N-95. COVID-19 has and continues to make changes to and disrupt peoples’ lives. It has at times become a divisive issue. I will be glad when we can move past it. Everything is not about money, but Laurel’s sales tax collections remained strong even during the pandemic. We actually finished 2020 stronger than we did in 2019, that shows the resilience of the people of Laurel and Jones County. Because we finished stronger than we did in 2019, I am proposing to give our employees a 5% pay increase at the beginning of March, of this year.
Laurel, was incorporated in 1882, out of 340 municipalities we are #22 in population. With approximately 290 employees, we are #15 in the top employers in the county. 60.4% of the residents of the city own their homes, that means that approximately 40% of our residents are renters, we need to do more to encourage home ownership. Our population consists of 50.8% female and 49.2% male.
We have adopted and strive to follow our mission statement; a copy should be in every department. “The City of Laurel is dedicated to delivering excellent municipal services and public safety through participatory government that is responsive to our entire community and consistent through the fiscally responsible use of resources in a manner that promotes outstanding cultural, recreational, educational and economic opportunities for residents and businesses.” We further state in Chapter 16 of our recently revised Personnel Rules and Regulations; “Every employee must remember that the City of Laurel is a taxpayer-supported entity and the citizens of the City paying those taxes should receive the best possible quality and highest standard of service possible.”
The City Clerk/Finance department is headed by Mary Ann Hess and they have six employees. On the City Clerk side is Mary Ann, Cindy Pitts-Chief Deputy Clerk, Deputy Clerk-Ann Brown and custodian Cassie Price. There was an election and a runoff for Ward 6 councilman. Contrary to normal elections, the runoff drew more voters than the primary. The victor was Grace Amos as the new councilman. Another election was handled by the City Clerk’s office which was an election to grant a franchise agreement with MS Power Company, this election is held every twenty-five years, to grant MS Power the authority to operate in the City of Laurel. This franchise fee generates approximately $1.6 million per year for the city’s General Fund. The franchise fee is 3% of MS Power’s gross sales, inside the City of Laurel. The turnout was low, but the citizens of Laurel who voted, overwhelmingly supported the franchise, by a vote of 119-in favor of and 4 against. There will also be a primary election held on April 6, for mayor and councilmen. The general election will be June 8 with the winners taking office on July 1. Preserving and retrieving the City’s historic documents are two major responsibilities of the City Clerk’s office. Twenty-five boxes, both legal and letter sized documents were sent out to be scanned, when these permanent documents were returned back to the City Clerk’s office, they were gone through again. Any old and damaged files were replaced with new files and labels. If the records were deemed to be permanent and could not be destroyed, they were refiled in the City Clerk’s file room. Being able to fulfill the public requests and other city departments’ requests in a timely manner is a continuing objective of the City Clerk’s office. This is one of the most important and most visible ways of meeting the needs of our internal and external customers. Another way we exceed customers’ expectations is to assist new business owners with obtaining a business license. Oftentimes this means that we help them with the overall process, including the coordination of all their inspections, zoning requirements, health department permits, and if applicable, their beer and alcohol licenses. A total of 149 new business licenses were applied for in 2020, that is up from the 115 the previous year. This past year the City of Laurel received eight applications for tax exemptions. These included the following businesses who applied for 10-year exemptions. Sanderson Farms requested exemption on $26,403,478.84. Howard Industries requested an exemption on $6,957,639.00. Wayne Farms requested one on $2,881,406.00. Southern Tire Mart-$1,404,832.00. Deep Well Energy-$1,032,043.00. Morgan Brothers-$534,189.00. Laurel Machine and Foundry-$454,381.11. Dunn Roadbuilders-$5,920.00. Contrary to what some think and say, if an industry is applying for a $26 million exemption, they are not exempt for $26 million, but the ad valorem tax on the $26 million. The exemptions are usually on improvements, expansions, new equipment, job creation, warehouse and or distribution, manufacturing or processing. The school taxes are never able to be exempted. Before an exemption can be approved it must be approved by the City, approved by the County through the tax assessor, and then approved by the State Tax Commission and then back to the City for final approval. We also received application for exemptions on Free-port Warehouse taxes. MS law allows eligible warehouses, public or private, a license to operate as a free port warehouse and be exempted from all ad valorem tax on personal property shipped out of State. For instance, if Howard Industries has $1 million worth of transformers to be shipped to New Mexico, they would not have to pay ad valorem tax, by claiming a free port warehouse exemption, since the goods are simply sitting in the plant awaiting shipment to its location. Howard’s requested exemption for $1,252,195. Essmueller- $93,499, Masonite-$58,616. And Thermo Kool-$46,589. The finance side of the City Clerk’s office consists of the Chief Accountant Kristal Jones and Assistant Accountant Lauren Stewart. They take to heart the part of the mission statement, “through the fiscally responsible use of resources”, this is a integral part of this department’s key objectives. For the first time in the City’s history, the City of Laurel obtained an AA credit rating. This credit rating was accomplished on a $5 million, 20-year revenue bond for the public utility fund. It was possible because we were able to obtain bond insurance on it with the special designation of a Build America Mass Mutual Insurance. Over the past several years, the City has been committed to replacing the existing water/sewer infrastructure with newer and more efficient infrastructure. This is the culmination of our efforts-an AA rating. Just for comparison, the City of Laurel had a B+ bond rating in the 1980’s. Since then, because of our conscious efforts to financially stabilize the public utility and invest in our City, the City has improved 5 grades to an AA rating. Only one rating is better, that being an AAA. With an AA credit rating, the City received bids for interest rates from five outstanding financial institutions. The winning bid was for 1.59% and all five bids were below 2%. In comparison, the State’s interest rate on a CAP loan is 3% and SRF (State Revolving Fund) is 1.9%. Because of our excellent credit history of repaying bonds, increasing water/sewer rates 3% annually, and using the bond money for only water/sewer improvements, the City was able to issue a 20-year Revenue Bond at 1.59%; therefore, saving the citizens of Laurel thousands of dollars in interest. One of our financial consultants, Lynn Norris, who works for Government Consultants, is quoted as saying, “Laurel is the talk of the State. No one can believe that the City of Laurel received a 1.59% interest rate on a 20-year Revenue Bond.”
RECREATION BOND: Upon advice from our bond attorney, the City decided to issue two separate General Obligation bonds for the proposed Sportsplex Improvement Project. The first bond in the amount of $3 million, will be repaid from the first penny of the tourism tax and the second bond of $1.5 million will be repaid from the second penny of the tourism sales tax. The second bond issue had to be shared with the Magnolia Center and they have received their share of the bond proceeds, which totaled, $427,061.37. Each of these bonds had a credit rating of A+.
CAPITAL EQUIPMENT: In December 2019, the City of Laurel issued a five year note in the amount of $258,686.81 for two dump trucks, a mini-excavator, and a backhoe. These items are to be used in the public utility department and were financed with water/sewer fund revenue. At the end of the fiscal year, because the City had some appropriated funds that were not going to be spent, mainly due to personnel vacancies, the Administration requested the Council to reallocate these funds to the capital line items. The Police, Fire, Street, Drainage and ITS departments were able to purchase some much-needed capital items for their departments. No additional loans were necessary to make these purchases. Due to the December 2019 tornado and the March 2020 hailstorm, the City suffered much damage to several pieces of our capital equipment and also to our buildings. The insurance company sent us a total of $970,869.08 for repair and to replace buildings and equipment. The City Clerk’s office assisted all departments with the bids on these items and building repairs and filed all necessary paperwork for the audit. The down side to having received almost $1 million in insurance payments, is that our property insurance increased.
TAXES AND FEES: At its annual Budget Public Hearing, Administration presented to Council a balanced budget in all funds. On September 8, the Council accepted the tax valuations as presented by the tax collector/assessor, and voted to continue with a budget at 43.35 mils, and passed the budget unanimously for FY 2021. The City had an increase in its valuation of 5.2%. The value of each mil increased by $9,963, making a mil worth $191,856.00. The School District also had an increase in its valuation by 7.3% and the value of each mil increased by $14,822, making their mil worth $203,249. We collected $21,483,703 in Ad Valorem taxes; the Laurel Separate School District received $12,748,686 and the City kept $8,735,017. The School financing is very important, we need to ensure that we get a good return on our investment in the Schools. As we all know the schools play an important role in attracting business, attracting people to move to the City. That is why it is so important that we place capable and qualified people to serve on the School Board, that is why tonight we offer to Council, Ms. Tracy Wilson to become a Trustee of the Laurel School Board. I urge her confirmation. In February of this year due to the COVID Pandemic, the City was expecting a huge drop in sales tax and tourism sales tax collections and starting preparing for the worse-case scenario. Instead, the City not only met but exceeded its budget for sales tax and tourism tax. Sales tax was up over the last year by almost $100,000 or 1.02%. 2019 it was $9,177,031 and for 2020 it was $9,272,025 for a difference of $94,994. Tourism sales tax showed an increase over $51,000, or 2.83%. 2019 it was $1,778,467 and 2020 it was $1,830,318, for a difference of $51,851. This past March, the City increased its water and sewer rates by 3%. We will again this March, seek to increase our water and sewer rates by the recommended 3%. As you listen to the improvements we are making to our water and sewer you can see the value of this miniscule increase. The Sanitation Fund did not require an increase in rates and bids were received in September 2020 to privatize the garbage pick-up. Waste Pro submitted the best bid and was selected as the vendor for garbage pick-up in the city beginning January 4, 2020. They have had almost a month on handling the garbage. There have been some hiccups, but I believe they will soon have things straight, we ask you for a little more patience.
AUDITS: The FY 2019 audit was a successful and clean audit. Two audit findings were included in the audit report and corrective action has been taken to ensure that the City does not receive these findings again. An engagement letter with Holt & Associates has been approved to work on the fiscal year 2020 audit. Prior to the fiscal year ending, the auditor presented the Finance Department with a long list of reports that were needed for the audit, several of these items were year-end reports. All reports were run and presented to the auditors in a timely manner.
CITY BANK ACCOUNTS: Beginning in January 2020, the City of Laurel changed its bank accounts to First State Bank, as a result of their winning bid on the bank depository. Previously it had been at Trustmark. Much time was spent in making necessary changes to the accounts payable and payroll checks, along with setting up the accounts. Each month Ms. Hess and Mrs. Jones work to determine the amount necessary to meet our financial obligations and cash flow for that month. Any excess funds are transferred from our checking account at First State Bank to our investment firm (Trinity Capital) and deposited into our bank accounts at Trustmark. These funds are then invested in government-approved interest-bearing securities. Since these are government funds, the State has extremely strict guidelines that the City and Trinity must follow in making these investments. Over the past year a total of $687,038.87 was earned on all of our excess funds. Depending on which fund these funds originated from, (General, Recreation, or Public Utility), the interest is credited back to that fund. The City of Laurel earned over $600,000 without any additional taxes being levied. As of September 30, 2020, the City had a cash balance total in all of its funds of $28,700,149.40
STREET FUNDS: The additional four mils that are levied solely for street repair, recommended by the Mayor and approved by Council, is in its second year of collection. Around $750,000 is collected from these four mils. The 2020 overlay project is being financed in this fund. The contract for this project is $2 million, with the extra $500,000 being transferred from the Road and Bridge Fund to make up the difference in the contract. Another source of street funds from the State, is the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act. The City received over $200,000 in FY 2020 from the proceeds of this act. Part of these funds were used for engineering expenses and other grant applications such as the BUILD grant application. In the BUILD grant we have proposed redoing 5th St from Teresa Street, past the main post office, around Sawmill to 16th Ave. It has not yet been funded.
GRANTS: Securing and keeping track of our grants is a collaboration between the City Clerk’s office, Mrs. Whitney Pickering and the various departments that apply for and receive the grants. During 2020 we received grants from AmeriCorps, Fire Haz/Mat grant, Victim’s Advocate Grant, Pat Harrison Grant, CDBG Aerator Project Grant, Skate Park Grant, and a Tennis Court grant. Originating with the Federal Government and funneled through the State the City of Laurel was able to obtain $434,243 from the Corona Virus Relief. The documentation for this relief was based for whatever reason, solely on expenses from the public safety sector.
The Laurel Police Department is headed by Chief Tommy Cox. They have 84 employees. They are budgeted for 55 officers and they finished the year with 50 on staff. They have a tough job. They worked 32,942 complaints compared to 32,185 last year. They made 2015 arrests compared to 1885 last year. We had 3 homicides that are currently being prosecuted, this compared to two last year. Of the 2015 arrests there were 25 use of force reports, compared to 44 last year. That number represents force used in only 1.2% of arrests., compared to 2.3% of arrests last year. There were 758 state accident reports done with an additional 610 incident report accidents, which are usually parking lot accidents. These numbers represent a 10% drop in state accident reports and 13% decrease in incident reports. With our grants for increased traffic patrol, it is the hope of the Police Department to have further reductions. During 2020, 11 officers received commendations for saving lives while on duty. During the year the department received 6 written complaints from citizens, all were determined to be unfounded. Officers received 8 disciplinary warnings with none resulting in officer suspensions. One internal affairs investigation was conducted, resulting in an officer suspension. Public outreach was greatly affected by COVID. The DEA Drug Take Back was held and to date 1800 pounds of unwanted prescription drugs were collected. The departments first female captain, Capt. Carraway continued the DARE program. Victim Advocate Teya Cooper coordinated activities for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Coffee with a Cop which was a tremendous success in 2019 was suspended in March of last year. The fifth year for Fill-A-Truck, to benefit the Good Samaritan Center was held and collected over $1700 in cash and 10 truckloads of food. Fraternal Order of Police continued to provide Christmas to children. LPD officers used their No Shave November funds to provide Christmas to two children whose home had recently burned. LPD rang the bell for Salvation Army and collected $510 for this very important program. LPD distributed 30 bikes that were donated by Jimmy Walker and our friends at Laurel Ford. The LPD has also begun a Senior Citizens Outreach Program where they call and go by and check on seniors, to make sure they are safe and sound. Chief Cox also has plans to get them to the site to have their COVID vaccine. NARCAN was introduced to the department last year and it has paid huge dividends in the saving of lives of overdose individuals. Most officers are also certified in the CIT program, where they are trained to deal with citizens who they may encounter who may be experiencing some form of mental issues. LPD plans to continue our mission of proactive policing, criminal and traffic, for the purpose of deterrence partnered with our vibrant public outreach programs to continue to foster good officer/citizen relationships.
The Municipal Court Administrator is Rebecca Clark, they have eight employees. 2020 was very challenging for them as with others having to deal with the pandemic. In the courtroom, the processes of the Municipal Court changed a great deal in order to accommodate safety guidelines. This required patience on the part of the citizens, officers and court staff. Municipal Court lost one of their coworkers to COVID, Monica Moffett who had been employed since August of 2013, succumbed on October 16. It was a devasting blow to the department. Despite the challenges, Municipal Court processed 11,341 violations, with 7616 of these being traffic violations. This was a 43% increase in the traffic violations since 2019. Additionally, Municipal Court collected $947,876.44 in court fines/fees, which was an increase of $74,562.06 compared to 2019. They are looking forward to the coming year where they will continue to meet the challenges of the changing environment in order to create more efficient and effective processes and continue to provide the services that are necessary to serve the citizens of the City of Laurel.
The Parks and Recreation Department is led by Elvin Ulmer, they have 49 employees. Before I get into what they have done, I want to mention that the leader of the department was honored on October 20, with the Council approving having his dream area named “The Elvin Ulmer Eightplex.” He thinks he knows everything, but that one caught him by surprise. I just have to say, Elvin does one heck of a job. I’ll call him about something, and sometimes it’s not even his department nor his responsibility, and his answer is always the same, “I’ll take care of it.” That’s one brother, I will defend all day long. Thank you Mr. Ulmer. I would also like to mention that Elvin lost one of his special employees during the year, Mr. Dwayne Daniels, he was Elvin’s main man. They do so many things across the year, and we will mention some of them. They kept up all the trees, flower beds, downtown flowers, maintains grounds at City Hall and all the other building the city maintains. Elvin volunteered his department to take over the cutting of the city-owned lots, the State-owned lots and the lots ordered by Council to be cut. He did this to take some of the slack off Public Works. They maintain the football and baseball fields at Laurel High School. They also maintain the fountain at Pinehurst and the clock at the roundabout near the Depot. This department was again awarded the AmeriCorps Grant where they hired 22 employees. This is a very welcome addition and a great asset to the City. Because of the pandemic most of the activities at the Sportsplex were either scaled back or cancelled altogether. They were able to do some Dixie Youth Baseball, but it was abbreviated. This down time allowed them to do some much-needed repairs and maintenance. The Dixie Youth World Series that was scheduled for the summer of 2020 has been rescheduled for the summer of 2021. While the governor had the tennis courts closed at the Sportsplex, a very vocal group of tennis players were calling the Mayor’s office every day urging us to resume tennis. They were also able to do maintenance at Boot Smith Fields, West Drive Fields, Gardiner Park, Boston Park, Oak Park Football Field and Fieldhouse, Oak Park Swimming Pool, K. C. Park, Mason Park, Leontyne Price Park, Pinehurst Park, Sandy Gavin Park, Cotton Mill Park, Daphne Park and Oak Street Pocket Park. Because of the pandemic most of our facilities remained closed, so there was not much revenue that was generated from the Cameron Center, the Depot, L.T. Ellis Center, nor the Murph Center for Seniors. The Cemetery Department continued to maintain the City owed facilities, but all our cemeteries are full. If we are going to remain in the cemetery business, we are going to need a minimum of fifteen acres to do a cemetery. Facility Maintenance which was headed by Dwyane Daniels before his demise, and is now headed by Victor Heidelberg received a total of 780 work orders from the various city facilities. They are busy most of the time, so when you are enjoying the fountain in Pinehurst Park, or the Christmas tree in the park and the trees at City Hall, inside and outside and all the Christmas decorations around town, these are done by Facility Maintenance.
The Department of Public Works began the physical year with Lorenzo Anderson as director, he left in February. They currently have 33 employees. We have had a problem finding a qualified replacement. We hired a director, but he did not last very long. We are looking at ways to remedy the situation at Public Works, including outsourcing. They provide a very important service, and they need to function properly. We have begun our new contract with Waste Pro, to collect garbage and it has had a sort of rocky roll-out, but it will get better, it has to.
The Inspection Department is headed by Harold Russell and they had 7 employees, when I started this address, unfortunately they lost one of their employees, Michael Bridges to illness on yesterday. They issued 927 building permits for the year with a value of $30,317,381. I really hate to bring this up now, but I hope we have major improvement in the Inspection Department this year as it relates to the appearance of the city. This is a very important department. The city of Laurel is on national television every week, and we are hoping to put on our best face. Some locations in this city are not our best face. We have people call and email each week wanting to come to Laurel to live, or some just to visit, because of the Hometown Show. All over this city, in most neighborhoods there are trashy yards, there are junk cars, there is indoor furniture on front porches, there are cars parked in the yards, there is laundry on fences. It took me three months once to get a junk car door out of a yard on 10th Ave and when they removed the door, the tires I had reported are still in the yard. We need to do better. Every week I have citizens and elected officials complaining to me about the appearance of the neighborhoods. When we were going to court over the rental ordinance, where we were seeking permission to go into the rental houses and inspect the rental houses to see if they were in a condition for the tenants to safely and comfortably live. Some of the property owners said it was unnecessary, because we had ordinances to take care of all these issues. I agree, we have ordinances and we need to enforce them. You know sometimes you can be in the wrong job; it may not be the best fit for you. I remember I went to work for Southern Bell Telephone and I found that me and the heights did not agree, being on that pole in the freezing cold, it did agree with me. I had to leave, because I was not being productive. I know the inspection jobs are civil service, but maybe you need to examine your job and see if maybe you should be doing something else, if you are not being productive in making this city look better.
The Laurel Fire Department is headed by Chief Leo Brown, they have 62 employees. They had forty-seven structure fires, which was an increase from thirty-two which were reported last year. The total estimated loss of the structure and contents was $2,416,975. They had nineteen vehicle fires which is an increase from the ten that were reported last year. There was one person who sustained minor burns at a call on I-59. There was one fire related death in March 2020 on Airport Drive, where a female was smoking while on oxygen. The department had a total of 314 vehicle accidents, which was a decrease from last year, which reported 367. There were 122 vehicle accidents with injuries which was a decrease of 24 from last year. Motor vehicle accidents with no injuries rose from 167 in 2019 to 174 for 2020. There was one fatality from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on I-59. The Department had 184 false alarms with most coming from SCRMC, SCRMC Wellness Center, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart caused from the pressure dropping in the sprinkler system. The Department had two cases of arson in 2020 confirmed by the State Fire Marshall’s office, one in April at 1305 Martin Luther King (Nora Davis School) and the other in December on Marie Drive. There was a fire at one of Laurel’s empty schools in July, at the time it was investigated as arson but was later ruled as undetermined, because the structure was not safe to enter. They made two calls into the newly annexed area, one on Mandalay, which was a total loss, and the other at Southern Tire Mart. They requested one mutual aid assistance, which was the school building in July. They received nine requests for mutual aid. There were three in the newly annexed area, but was before we formally began to service the area. In some improvements in prevention beginning February 1, Battalion Chief Howard Kitchens will ride the city checking all plugs for leaks, in need of painting, in need of cleaning. He will report those to the chief and then the chief will assign to the Battalion Chiefs. Beginning March 1, Battalion Chief Kitchens will go to each station to drop off inspection forms on the 1st of the month and go back and pick them up on the 20th of the month. Each station will have from the 1st to the 15th to finish the inspections. In some changes and improvements in training, starting February 1st, the Department will no longer use the old daily training forms. They will begin using a new form that includes more physical, hands-on firefighter training. Battalion Chief Holifield will pick up the forms at the end of the month and check for errors and report findings to the chief. Beginning March 1st, street testing and turn out drills will be conducted monthly at the stations by the training officer. The street test will consist of fifteen streets in your assigned area. Each station will take the same test.
Human Resources is overseen by Nellie Satcher and they have a total of five employees. The revision of the City of Laurel Rules and Regulations was completed and new copies were distributed to all employees. Nine employees were processed for retirement. There were 86 new employees processed; 33 in Public Works, 23 at Police, 9 in the Fire Department, 18 in Parks and Rec, 2 in Inspection and 1 on the Council. They oversaw six civil service exams over the year for Fire, Police, Inspection and General Clerical. 52 Flu shots were given to employees. Human Resources assisted various departments and employees with dealing with the COVID, assisting around 39 City employees that were directly impacted by COVID. They participated in two separate job fairs. HR completed Open Enrollment and assisted all employees with their health insurance, life insurance and other offerings by the various agents. The HR’s Payroll Department, with Sheila Windham makes certain that all taxes are paid timely. Make sure payments are made on all the various insurances that employees are covered by. Make certain payments are made to the United Way, the police and fire unions. They have 73 child support payments to make, 25 garnishments and 3 bankruptcies. They also prepare the W-2 forms to distribute to employees. The Safety Department, with Sandra Hadley, saved the City money when it was discovered that some employees were being paid twice while on Workman’s Compensation, from Workman’s Comp and by the City. Measures were implemented to stop this activity. She has begun to file judgement on non-insured drivers to recover City money when there is an accident. She is preparing for an equipment auction as soon as COVID allows. She made sure that all employees had the needed equipment to be protected during COVID, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc. also, during this same time she made sure all employees had up-to-date ID badges, if something with COVID made it impossible for free travel.
Suez has been the City of Laurel’s contracted entity for the last fourteen years. They handle the operation and maintenance of the City’s water, wastewater, water lines, sewer lines, lift stations and customer service/billing departments. In October their contract was expanded to include four additional employees, bringing their contracted employees from forty-eight to fifty-two, to create a special projects crew to handle sewer cave-ins and other tasks that we had originally contracted out to various companies. This addition is expected to save the City several thousand dollars per year, by Suez doing these jobs inside the company. Along with their external and internal training, Suez provides uniforms, personnel safety equipment at an annual cost of $87,000. Suez is responsible for any cash shortage that occurs within the management and operation of the City of Laurel Customer Service Department. Suez is responsible for any and all environmental fines that may occur due to the operation of the plants. With a goal of being a partner with the City of Laurel, Suez accepts or shares the liability in many claims due to sewer backups and vehicle damage that are not the responsibility of Suez. Since the beginning of the City of Laurel’s contract with Suez in October 2006, Suez has paid a total exceeding $600,000 in claims. Suez accepts liability for any vehicle accident in which a Suez employee is driving a City vehicle. Suez contributes $2,000 annually to the Sawmill Square Mall’s Fourth of July Fireworks show, they annually participate in the City of Laurel’s Touch a Truck event, this year with a $250 donation. They displayed four pieces of equipment. They contributed $15,000 to the South Central Regional Medical Center Foundation. They donated $500 to the Night Out Against Crime and donated 500 Suez coloring books and crayons. They also donated $500 to the Laurel-Jones County Dixie Youth Baseball Program. Suez paid $5400 for three of their employees to take CDL training on Saturdays at Jones College. All three completed and obtained their CDL. The contract with Suez requires them to provide four (4) vehicles for the Laurel project; at the end of the year, they were providing 10 trucks, 2 Boom Trucks, 1 Backhoe and 2 mowers. Some of the highlights from the year: Replaced and upgraded the water line and piping to 8 inch and installed valves at the intersection of Old Amy and Old Bay Springs Road, before it was paved in fall of 2020. Replaced 2-inch water main on Elizabeth Ave, included in this was the replacing all the water services and replacing all the water meters. Replaced the water services and meters on North Audubon Drive. Replaced the water line on Orso Drive, upgrading existing 2-inch water main to a 6 inch, replacing all services, replacing all meters and installing a fire hydrant. They repaired a sewer cave-in at 1007 N 9th Ave, it took four days and the sewer was 15 feet deep. Another cave-in occurred at 1029 N 14th Ave. At 2023 Old Bay Springs Rd, the crew replaced a 1-inch lead water service line. At 1137 N 15th Ave, the crew replaced a 6-inch sewer main from manhole to manhole, the main was 8 ½ feet deep. Suez repaired 1159 water leaks, located 1850 lines, replaced/repaired 10 fire hydrants, did 38 water taps, 30 sewer taps, plugged water service at 4 locations, unstopped 747 sewers, worked 113 sewer cave-ins and repaired/raised 19 manholes. The Wastewater Department remains in full compliance of the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Discharge Permits. Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality reported no findings and no violations in 2020. During 2020, Mike Votta, Wastewater Supervisor kept communications open with our pre-treatment industries, i.e., Masonite, Wayne Farms and Sanderson Farms. Our wastewater budget recognized a substantial savings during the year in the use of chemicals due to this effort. No chemicals were used for fiscal year 2020 at Smyly Waste Water treatment Plant, which gave us a savings in lime of 42% and a savings in chlorine of 60%. Permit renewals were submitted to MDEQ/EPA and new permits renewed with an execution date of 8.1.2020. Suez reached out to NRCS for federal grant assistance regarding the erosion control for the Massey and Smyly WWTF (Wastewater Treatment Facilities) levees. The City of Laurel was awarded $5.6 million dollars to recondition the levees at both locations. The UV System upgrade modifications at Massey and Smyly WWTF are currently underway, and completion will be in the Spring of 2021. Approximately 100 feet of 24-inch gravity fed sewer main going into the Smyly influent station collapsed and had to be replaced. In addition, the manhole that serves the Influent Station was also replaced. At Massey Wastewater Treatment Plant, they treated 1,216,056,000 gallons of waste and Smyly Wastewater Treatment Plant treated 1,415,194,000. The total treated at both plants was 2,631,250,000 gallons of wastewater. The City of Laurel had to go to visit the EPA in Atlanta concerning our wastewater. We received a clean bill of health, no fines, no findings, all was good. If you noticed last week Hattiesburg was entering into a sixteen-year consent decree with the EPA, for a cost of over $40 million, and by February 21 they must pay a fine of $165,000. Meridian also had a visit from EPA and they have a consent decree, it amounts to about $126 million over 20 years. Jackson the capital city has a consent decree that is possibly going to be as much as $400 million and a fine of $437,916 and a penalty of between $500-$2000 a day if the decree is not met. We are appreciative for the work that Suez does to keep us in compliance. In Water Production, the City of Laurel has a total of sixteen wells. In January 2018 we revised the contract with Suez for a well rehabilitation program, over ten years. This program will assure that our wells are pumping at maximum capacity. Water Production produced 2,069,511,600 gallons of water in 2020. Suez handles the City of Laurel Customer Service where payments for water bills are paid. We usually average approximately $ 1million per month and for 2020 we collected $13,111,345. Even with the hardships of COVID the Customer Service Department exceed the revenue budget by $650,935.43. Customer Service responded to 9,234 requests last year, the most being for disconnect for nonpayment which was 1,709, next was 1396 reconnect after cutoff.
During the year we received a Mississippi Home Corp grant in the amount of $505,000, this includes major rehabilitation for four homes and two total reconstructions. We also received a Housing Preservation Grant for $124,785, it included rehabs for approximately 10 homes. Laurel falls into a unique category when it comes to home grants, our population is not large enough to automatically qualify, and it is too large to qualify for some of the grants for smaller cities.
These are the capital improvements that are ongoing at this time, or recently completed.
- 5th Avenue and 13th Ave utility improvements, completed in June 2020. Funding source: City bonds, ($5,190,000) grant funds ($304,500). We received $100,000 from State funds obtained by Senator Juan Barnett. Total Cost: $5.5 million. Project included replacement or rehabilitation of water mains, sewer mains, water and sewer services on 5th Ave from Central Ave to Northview Drive and along 13th Ave from Jefferson St to 12th St.
- 13th Ave Overlay and Drainage Improvements. Completed January 2021. Funding source: City Bonds. Total Cost: $1.1 million. Project includes milling, asphalt overlay and drainage improvements.
- 5th Ave Overlay and Drainage improvements: Funding Source: City Bonds. Total Cost. $2.6 million. Project includes milling, asphalt overlay and drainage improvements. To be completed in Spring 2021.
- West 12th St Improvements: Funding Source: City Funds. Project Cost: $700,000. Widening and paving W 12th St from Wansley Rd to 16th Ave. Completed August 2020.
- Jefferson St Road Diet and Pedestrian Improvements: Total Cost: $626,000. City Funds-$277,500. County Funds-$100,000. SCRMC Funds-$248,500. Project included reducing Jefferson to a 3-lane section, improved pedestrian safety crossings and milling and overlay Jefferson St. Completed September 2020.
- Beacon St/Leontyne Price Gateway. Construction began in January of 2021. Total cost $5.3 million. Project includes roadway and pedestrian improvements along Leontyne Price from MDOT right-of-way going north to Central Ave.
- Central Avenue Roundabout and 500 Block Improvements: Funding Source: MDOT-$868,740. City Funds-$592,000. Total Project: $1.5 million. Construction should begin Spring 2021. Project will include the removal of the flagpole, realignment of the roundabout, construction of raised center island, removal of brick pavers and pedestrian and drainage improvements.
- 2020 Overlay Project: Funding Source: City Bond. Total Cost: $ 2 million. Project includes roadway improvement for: Elizabeth Ave, 24th St, Clairmont Circle area, Oak Park Blvd, Wansley Rd,18th St, Old Amy Road, Pearson St, 15th St. Project completed January 2021.
- Daphne Tennis Courts. Funding Source: City Funds, MS Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Grant, United States Tennis Association. Total Project Cost: $447,000. Project included construction of 5 new post-tension concrete playing surfaces on the existing courts at Daphne Park, new netting and amenities and ADA access. This portion was completed in November of 2020. Elvin will build the pro-shop, restrooms and observation deck later this Spring. This will be the home courts for Laurel High School and they will pay a lease fee of $100,000 in $10,000 annual installments. These nine projects have a construction value of $18 million.
- These are some projects that have just commenced and not completed or will begin soon. Laurel Sportsplex Expansion Contract I. Construction began September 2020. Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $3.8 million. Includes construction of a 4-field softball complex, complete with parking, access road, press-box, and field amenities.
- Laurel Sportsplex Expansion Contract II. Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $2.2 million. Project will include clearing, earthwork, waste relocation and clay cap construction on the old land field and construction of access roads and parking areas. Bids will open on February 9th.
- CDBG Water System Improvements Phase I at Plant 3 (Construction Completed May 2020) Phase II at Plant 2 (Construction completion March 2021.) Funding Source: Match from City Funds-$881,000. CDBG-$499,000. Total Project Cost: $1.4 million. Project includes water tank rehabilitation and replacement of aerators at Plants 2 and 3 and installation of a 200,000-gallon bypass tank at Plant 2.
- South 16th Avenue Utility and Roadway Improvements. Bids were received January 12, construction to begin soon. Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $1.8 million. Project to include milling and overlay, striping, and utility improvements along S 16th Ave, from Ellisville Blvd. to Queen St.
- Martin Luther King Utility and Roadway Improvements. Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $3.1 million. Project includes milling and overlay, striping, and utility improvements along Martin Luther King Avenue from Chantilly St to E 20th St. (it is in the design phase, should go out for bid in March and construction beginning Summer of 2021.)
- Kimberly and Katherine Drive and Clairmont Circle Utility and Roadway Improvements. Construction to begin Summer of 2021. Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $3.2 million. Project will include milling and overlay, striping, and utility improvements along Kimberly Dr, Katherine Dr, Kellie Place, and Clairmont Circle Subdivision.
- Brown Street Drainage and Access Road Project. Construction to begin Summer of 2021. Funding Source: State Bond acquired by Senator Juan Barnett. Total Project Cost: $650,000. Project will include drainage improvements in Brown St area and construction of an alternate emergency access road on the western end of Brown St.
- NRCS Lagoon Access Road, Construction to begin Summer of 2021. Funding Source: NRCS Funds-$4,282,987.50, City Funds-$1,297,875.00 Total Project Cost: $5,580,862.50. Project will include installation of borrow material and grouted riprap to reshape and protect the Smyly and Massey Lagoon slopes and access road around the lagoons.
- State Revolving Fund Wastewater Facilities Plan. It is in the planning phase. Funding Source: Water Pollution Control Revolving Loan Fund. Total Project Cost: TBD Project will include developing a plan to identify wastewater facility improvements and extend sewer service to the newly annexed areas. This plan will develop project budgets and proposed construction timelines as part of the Revolving Loan Fund loan application process.
- GIS Water Valve Location (Data collection is complete and GIS network is being updated) Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $90,000. Project includes field locating and GPSing water valves and updating the GIS water system.
- GIS Fire Hydrant Locations. (Data collection is complete and GIS network has been updated). Funding Source: City Funds. Total Project Cost: $10,000. Project included locating fire hydrants throughout the City of Laurel in partnership with Neel-Schaffer and City of Laurel Fire Department.
- Acquisition of the Oak Park High School Alumni Building. Funding Source: City Funds. Project Cost: $150,000. Construction to begin Summer 2021. Project consists of obtaining building from Laurel School System, renovation of building and maintenance of building. To be utilized as a city-owned facility available for rentals, much like the Train Depot, Cameron Center and L. T. Ellis Center. It will be placed under the control of Parks and Recreation. Facility will be available for use by the Oak Park Alumni Association, on a no-charge basis. Facility will house artifacts, photos, and memorabilia of Oak Park High School. It will be a win for the City and a win for the Oak Park Alumni.
Some say we are not doing anything, but the projects that we just listed that are either in the design phase or in the construction phase total $41.6 million, and this all comes from a 3% per year water/sewer increase and a 4 mil increase in ad valorem tax three years ago. I think we are wisely spending taxpayer money.
- We have one project that we will be looking at. 3rd Avenue reconstruction from 10th St to 13th St. This is a brick street and the project estimate is $1,420,000. This project is not yet budgeted. The cost is $900,000 in road and drainage work and $520,000 in water and sewer work. The bricks would need to be removed and replaced with asphalt. We hope to get this on a future project funding.
I thank you for your patience, and I declare that the State of the City of Laurel Mississippi is healthy! Hopefully when we meet again next year, we won’t be dealing with COVID!