Mayor first elected in ’13
Mayor Johnny Magee is running for re-election.
Streets, infrastructure and bringing businesses into Laurel are his platforms for the upcoming term, as they were for this one — the eight-year incumbent said he feels he and his administration accomplished what they set out to do four years ago. He said he wants to provide services for “the people who pay the bills — the citizens — and keeping their city bills reasonable.”
“Our biggest complaint from people is the condition of the streets,” Magee said. “When we first came into office, we borrowed $10 million for street paving, and that $10 million didn’t go a long way because our streets were in such bad shape.”
Paving one mile of street runs between $650,000 and $750,000, and it was unrealistic for the city to borrow money for every street re-paved. But it’s also unrealistic to introduce tax increases over and over.
Between legislative funds and one 4 millage tax increase from 2018, the city has $2.2 million set aside each year to pave streets.
“You can see it coming to fruition,” Magee said. “On 13th Avenue they’ve paved one lane, and by the end of the year they’ll be paving 5th. That’s one of our major platform items, making the streets able to be driven safely and smoothly. We’ll be doing Leontyne Price soon and several others.”
Improved streets drive retail — but new streets are mostly for residents’ needs, Magee said.
“Citizens are who we work for,” he said.
Among Magee’s achievements last year was the Elvin Ulmer Eightplex, funded by a 2-cent tourism tax and refinanced bonds that were approved in City Council this week, plus the addition of Laurel High’s new home tennis court and the Daphne Skate Park, which the city funded with a state grant.
Another Magee measure came just Tuesday as the city approved outsourcing garbage collection to Waste Pro USA, so city employees will no longer have to do it come January. That will free them up to focus on picking up debris, covering potholes and other tasks.
This year’s biggest economic variable was, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, which Magee will continue responding to if re-elected. His stance in the preceding months was to match Gov. Tate Reeves’ safety measures, which he’ll continue doing. Finance-wise, Laurel has been one of the fortunate municipalities whose sales taxes haven’t dipped due to a loss in traffic. In fact, sales taxes have only grown, and they continue to grow.
“The city never put a mandate on mask-wearing,” Magee said. “The city has allowed the people who pay the bills to decide whether visitors should wear masks in their establishments. We had people from all over calling and asking if we’re open — yes, we’re open.”
Though restaurant dining rooms were closed for a while, Magee introduced an ordinance allowing outdoor dining. The results of that can still be seen downtown any given day.
“We never took the position that stores should close,” he said. “We urge people to be safe, tell them that they need to social distance and wear a mask. But the city hasn’t issued any (COVID-19) citations.”
Asked why residents should vote for him next year, Magee said it should be because of his leadership experience.
“It’s kind of difficult in a way,” he said. “I spent 16 years on City Council. I’ve done eight years as mayor. But I don’t consider myself a career politician. I’m a servant to the City of Laurel. It just happens that I’ve been around for a while.”