Ward 4 candidates respond to survey

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 11, 2004

Editor’s note: Ward 4 voters go to the polls Tuesday toelect a new alderman to complete the remainder of the current termthrough June 2005. The candidates in the race are Jay Bishop, BoyceBullock, Shirley Estes and Steve Melancon. Today, The DAILY LEADERis publishing the candidates’ responses to a series of questionsabout issues facing the ward and the city

1. As Ward 4 Alderman, what do you hope toaccomplish for your ward and Brookhaven?

Jay Bishop: As alderman, I intend to showthe residents of Ward 4 that I am serious about representing theneeds of this particular segment of Brookhaven’spopulation.

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I will do this by conducting random telephone calls toresidents pertaining to specific issues. Also, if space is providedby this medium, to make public statements from time to time on thestatus of matters before the board.

I cannot be more precise, because I do not have preciseinformation on specific issues. But I will serveWard 4 with integrity, dignity and, I believe, goodjudgment.

Boyce Bullock: My goal is to provide solidleadership to meet the needs of the people of Ward 4. I will wantto establish a line of communication between the residents and thecity government that effectively solves problems that occur. Ibelieve that in many cases common sense evaluation of the problemswe face can provide the basis for effective management andeffective utilization of resources.

Shirley Estes: My goals would be to applymy experiences and abilities, including being a team player, towardcontinuing the forward movement of Brookhaven and Ward 4 withplanned and sustained growth. This includes preserving ourtreasured neighborhoods, sustaining an urban forest, supporting ourschools, recreational opportunities, dealing with issues regardinggood water, well maintained streets and fire protection andsupporting those efforts that will bring more and better jobopportunities. I would also be diligent in tending to the small butimportant day-to-day responsibilities, which face everyalderman.

Steve Melancon: STREETS AND SIDEWALKS – Iwill work to develop a long-range plan for the construction andmaintenance of our streets, curbs, guttering and sidewalks. I wantto see a plan to restore our sidewalks so that they are once againsafe and usable.

Brookhaven needs a city wide plan, not just a hit or missapplication. All too often our sidewalks are not included in thestreet plans. As a result, our sidewalks are in horrible shape ordo not exist where needed. We can and must do better. People needsidewalks

DRAINAGE – Standing water must be eliminated in the ditchesand drainage system of Ward 4. A small ditch where water stands mayseem like a little problem for the city, but it will become a bigproblem if one of our citizens becomes ill with the West NileVirus. I will work to solve the little problems before they becomebig ones.

WARREN AVENUE BRIDGE – Like the perennial bitter weed, thisproposal will be back. The proposed bridge and its new connectorroad will ruin our neighborhood. Thoroughfares should not beplanned through residential areas. This bridge is not needed. Itwill destroy Ward 4 and eventually destroy much of the tax base ofBrookhaven.

ZONING – I will work to preserve and protect our nice, quietpart of the city. To accomplish this, we need to diligently andregularly review the zoning map so as to ensure that we areprotecting the integrity of the residential areas while allowing ahealthy pattern of growth for commercial needs. Because many of ourneighborhoods are old, they are vulnerable to outside influences.Historical districts may be needed to protect certain propertiesand neighborhoods. I will work to establish historical districts,where warranted, so long as the neighborhood embraces the conceptand the property owners of the proposed district make up themembership of the governing board.

RAILROAD CROSSING GUARDS – As your alderman, I will work toconvert our railroad crossing guards to a four-quadrant trafficgate system. This is an improvement over the current two-quadrantsystem because four-quadrants prevent injuries and save lives. Youcannot drive around them. Additionally, there is no need for atrain to blow its whistle. Brookhaven would be designated a no blowtown, thus eliminating the deafening sound of a whistle.

2. What do you consider the top three issues facingBrookhaven in the next five years. As alderman, how will youaddress each one?

Bishop: The first of these three questions isfor me a no brainer. It would have to be the revitalization ofdowntown Brookhaven. I would explore, among other things, using taxincentives for existing downtown businesses.

I think the Mississippi School of the Arts can become one of ourgreatest assets and I will work to nurture it to its fullestpotential.

One issue that should always be of concern is the budget. Inthis area when addressing wages and salaries of city employees, Iwould consider myself to be on the liberal side of center line butconversely, I don’t believe that any job requires two chiefs forevery indian. In non-employee related budget items, I verydefinitely shall vote with a conservativepen.

Bullock: CITY EXPANSION – I believe the city ofBrookhaven needs to expand and when the annexation plan isimplemented, I will work to see to it that we do it efficiently andkeep our word to the new residents and the present residents as tocity services.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Our city needs to continue to seriouslypursue economic development. I will work with the chamber ofcommerce, IDF, board of supervisors and the members of the cityboard to see to it that strong responsible offers are made toproposals. I will work to evaluate the proponent’s credentials andeconomic stability. I will support economic development that bringsstable growth and jobs to our community.

GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY – I believe that the true way to hold downtaxes is to use our present income properly and to operateefficiently in the present environment. I will strive to make surethat city services are offered in a cost effective manner. I willalso work to offer those services at reasonable fees.

Estes: Retaining existing industry andrecruiting technology-based industry would be high on the list ofissues as would broadening our tax base and assimilating theannexed city expansion as it is ruled upon in the appeal. I wouldaddress each of these issues with a collaborative attitude.

Melancon: The office I’m seeking has eightmonths left on the term; therefore, I see no reason to addresspossible issues for the next five years. Please review question oneto see what the voters of Ward 4 think are currently important.

3. The Board of Aldermen is facing a decision onrecruiting new retail development to Brookhaven. Do you supportsuch recruitment that uses sales and property tax diversions to payfor infrastructure improvements for such developments?

Bishop: I would have to know specifics of anyplan before voting yes or no on that particular issue, but theshort answer is yes, I do support such recruitment efforts.

Bullock: Yes. The recruitment of new industryand retail business is highly competitive. All across the state ofMississippi, communities are reaching out to proposals to locate intheir community. The true test of said effort is to evaluate thepotential of the retail or industrial proposal before the decisionto offer incentives is made. In making such decisions I willevaluate the effect the proposal will have on our present communityand the effect it will have on our future. I will evaluate thecompetitive effects that will influence jobs, sales tax receipts,development of our land and the effect that our decision will haveon future development. We must also consider the effect a retailbusiness will have on drawing consumers to our city to shop withthe prospect and other merchants while they are here. We must nevergive the business community the perception that we are anti-growth.However, I believe that growth for the sake of growth is not thebest course. Responsible growth for the sake of retail developmentand market enhancement is the best course. If reasonable use ofsaid tax dividends to pay for infrastructure provides responsiblegrowth, I am for it.

Estes: The decision being faced now by theboard of aldermen on tax increment financing is a complex onebecause the board must weigh the needs of the community as a while,more tax revenue and growth, against the needs of a segment ofsmaller retailers, their employees and families. It is a difficultsituation for those to whom greater competition is just around thecorner. Having been co-owner of a small business for many years Ican relate to that pressure; however, do we just say that beyondthis point we will not progress? If I as your alderman face thisvote I will pray for wisdom for the best decision.

Melancon: There is no need to respond to thisquestion because the issue will be decided by the time thiselection is concluded. I see no logical reason to waste valuablecampaigning time on moot issues.

4. City employees and elected officials currentlyreceive a generous health care benefit, which gives littleincentive to save health care costs by the individual employee.Would you favor increasing deductibles and/or increasing the amountcity employees pay for dependent care in order to old down costs ofthe overall group insurance plan to the city? Pleaseexplain.

Bishop: I’m a believer in the old adage thatyou get what you pay for. I think to be generous to city employees,including health care, is ultimately beneficial to Brookhavenbecause it helps breed job loyalty, morale and pride in being acity employee. However, that generosity, of course, has to beweighed against budget constraints. I suspect the answer to thisparticular dilemma might be a little give and take by both city andemployees.

Bullock: I would favor a review of the currenthealth care benefits to make sure that the city has employed thebest use of its assets. I must confess that at the present time mywife and I enjoy the coverage of city health insurance coverage. Asan employee I do know that health care coverage is a valuable assetof loyal city employees who serve the city well but do not enjoythe high wages in other sections of our economy. The healthinsurance program is a very real incentive to employ and retainpeople to work for the city.

I think that if you are going to re-evaluate the health carebenefits you must also evaluate the efficiency and quality of theemployees who work for the city. If our people are motivated by thebenefits to do their very best each day to provide city servicesand effective use of our assets, a generous health care benefit maywell be the price we pay for loyal, long term effective employeesfor our city. Many businesses pay high wages to employees andaccomplish those things. The city of Brookhaven cannot match theprivate sector in wages. But health care can be the key toproviding cost effective benefits to employees. We must never losesight of the fact that employment and retention of good workers forour city is a key for effective government.

Estes: I would favor modest increases indeductibles and in the amount city employees pay for dependentcoverage. Again as small business owners we were challenged yearafter year with being able to provide that benefit for ouremployees while being wise in the use of our revenues. The city cando no less.

It is important to provide coverage because this is asignificant benefit to employees who are generally underpaid but itis also necessary to be fiscally responsible. If increasingdeductibles and the amount employees pay for dependent coverage canreduce the cost of premiums to the city significantly, then I wouldbe for those increases.

Melancon: We should compare our package and itscost to the state employees’ plan. Using the state as a model, Ithink we should offer no less and, unless justified by localcircumstances, no more than the state offers its employees. Thecity should review each and every benefit offered under the currentplan and make a determination whether or not it should be coveredunder health care. As examples: life, off the job disability anddental may need to be addressed individually and not as part of thetotal package. I would then propose that we meet with the insurancecommissioner and seek the help of his staff in drafting a requestfor proposals to competitively bid our health insurancepackage.

To help control future costs we should have rigorous employmentphysicals, a logical waiting period before the policy is effectiveand a strong safety program. Also, every reasonable effort shouldbe made to reduce the use of tobacco, alcohol and other lifestylesthat lead to increased health care cost.