- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

April 2

The Vicksburg Post on tackling commercial blight:

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. Monday said the city will begin cracking down on vacant and derelict commercial buildings.

It’s about time.

The current Board of Mayor and Aldermen has followed a policy of strict code enforcement in the city’s residential areas and that policy has helped clean and improve several problem areas in the city. But while the board has been enforcing the law on the people the mayor called “the little man,” it has not enforced the city code as stringently on the city’s commercial property owners.

“We cannot continue to come in here and chastise the little man, the small guy, and take his property from 60 days with 30 days progress and then let these big old giant buildings - one next door (the old post office building),” he said.

“People have got all this money and look at these (vacant commercial) buildings, and then you want to keep beating up on these little folks about a car in their yard or a dump truck in their yard, and then you walk by these big old buildings and nobody says nothing. That’s embarrassing to me.”

Flaggs is right.

How can the board continue to come down hard on someone because his grass isn’t cut or he has a car in his yard when a nearby vacant building in disrepair sits on an overgrown lot or a lot littered with trash? Besides the old post office, another example of a large neglected building is the multi-story old Mercy Hospital building on Grove Street, and there are dozens more all over the city.

When Flaggs took office in 2013, he promised to leave Vicksburg “in a better condition than when I found it,” and is doing that, working to improve the city’s economy and making the downtown area a place where people want to go. But all the work to make the city a place where people want to come is wasted if we don’t improve the way we look, and eliminating vacant dilapidated commercial buildings, especially on our major thoroughfares, is a necessity.

We applaud the board for its decision to start cracking down on commercial building owners violating the code. And now that they’ve made their decision, we’ll be watching to see if they enforce the codes with the same fervor as they have in the residential areas

Online: https://www.vicksburgpost.com


March 31

The Natchez Democrat on Mississippi’s infrastructure:

Mississippi’s crumbling infrastructure needs quick attention.

Last week the Mississippi Department of Transportation mandated the closure of more than 60 bridges that were supposed to have been closed earlier due to structural concerns.

The Federal Highway Administration mandated the closure of state bridges deemed unsafe and put the loss of approximately $530 million in federal highway funds on the line if they didn’t comply.

At the end of the day, Mississippi should be ashamed that its leadership has allowed the state’s infrastructure to get in such shape in the first place.

And Mississippi certainly should never be in a position in which the federal government has to threaten to pull funds in order to get the state to do the right thing.

The 2019 Legislature closed on Friday, paving the way for the state election campaigns to gear up at full speed.

We hope (and urge) those seeking state leadership positions to commit to fixing Mississippi’s infrastructure problems.

Whether the solution is a gas tax increase or something else, we need a plan to get our highways and roads back in good shape for the safety of our residents and for the economy we need to grow and foster.

Online: https://www.natchezdemocrat.com


March 31

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on teacher pay:

Mississippi educators will see higher paychecks next school year.

State lawmakers settled one of the biggest questions of the 2019 legislative session on Thursday when they finalized raises for the state’s teachers and assistant teachers. The agreement now awaits the expected signature of Gov. Phil Bryant.

The plan will bump Mississippi teacher salaries by $1,500 beginning July 1, with the entry salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree rising from $34,390 to $35,890, although many districts add to that amount with local supplements. Other teachers will earn more based on their number of years of experience and the degrees they hold. For instance, a 12th-year teacher with a master’s degree will earn at least $44,880.

Most political watchers believed lawmakers would agree to a teacher pay raise this year, given that it is an election year, but the big question was what that amount would be. The final agreement, estimated to cost $58 million, came after much debate and numerous proposals.

In his budget request released in November, Bryant called for the state to spend $25 million on a teacher pay increase. The Senate originally passed a plan that would raise salaries by $1,000, phased-in over two years, while the House approved a $4,000 raise, also phased-in over two years.

The final agreement has come under criticism from some teachers and advocates who have said it is not large enough to make a significant impact. Some Democratic lawmakers tried to send it back for more debate in the hopes of increasing it, while Republican leaders said the state couldn’t afford a larger proposal, citing other needs.

“It’s not where we want to be,” said Republican House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett of Long Beach. “It’s what we can do.”

Meanwhile, the minimum salary for assistant teachers will go from $12,500 to $14,000, although many districts also add to that total with local supplements. It is the first raise for assistant teachers since 2007, and the final proposal was actually larger than the $1,000 raise originally proposed by both the Senate and the House in their initial bills.

We welcome the pay raise and appreciate the efforts of lawmakers to elevate the teaching profession. We also agree that more work is needed if Mississippi is going to attract more of its best and brightest citizens to the teaching profession and keep its best teachers from leaving for higher paying jobs in other states.

Now that the latest pay raise has been finalized, we call on lawmakers to continue that work. The issue of teacher pay should not merely be placed on a shelf until the next election approaches. This is far too important to our state.

We understand lawmakers will have to get creative to find a way to get Mississippi’s teacher salaries equal to and above the Southeastern average. But budgets are about setting priorities, and having the highest quality teachers will make a tremendous impact on Mississippi’s future in so many ways. It must remain at the top of the list in 2020 and beyond.

Online: https://www.djournal.com


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