COLUMBIA, MS (WDAM) - Five people are vying to be Columbia's next mayor.
Three republicans and two democrats will be on primary ballots May 2.
Businessman Harry Griffith, former Columbia mayor Reed Houston and Columbia Police Captain Justin McKenzie, are running on the republican ticket, and all said the city's financial situation will be a challenge.
"It's like any business we have to increase our revenues, and we have to cut our expenses through efficiency," Griffith said. "We have a declining population. We have a declining tax base."
Houston said, "Right now, with the financial situation the city's in, that's probably going to be the number one focus. Sales tax has been dwindling from what I understand. It's been well below what the city needs to operate on and to stay in the black."
McKenzie said, "We've seen the lower sales tax since 2014, and, of course, property values have decreased. All of that has taken a huge toll on the city's budget. It's important to shop at home and spend your money here because the sales tax is primarily what the city depends on monthly to pay its bills."
The candidates said increasing the city's tax revenue is essential and had two suggestions to build a tax base.
One, increase the number of businesses inside the city limits by expanding them and annexing portions of Highway 98 toward Hattiesburg.
"The annexation is going to be a big thing for our future of Columbia," said Houston, who said annexation was business he left unfinished when he left office in 2013. "You can't just worry about right now. You have to worry about years down the road. If we don't enlarge our corporate limit and get more retail in here and have room for them, we're going to miss out on a lot of sales tax."
McKenzie said, "The city needs to grow, to prosper. A city without growth will eventually die. I think that we need to expand our boundaries, allow for new home growth and new developments to take place."
Griffith said, "We have the Highway 98 corridor to Hattiesburg. It's one of our greatest assets."
Griffith also wants to sell Columbia as a tourist destination and as a place to retire.
"It's a nice, quiet town," he said. "We've got wonderful architecture. It's a beautiful city. We've got a great history. There's a lot of attraction there, a lot of points of interest that we have that could be enhanced, but they're not being promoted. They've got to be sold to the public and to the country as a tourist destination and also for retirees to know that it's a great place to live."
Houston also wants to bring in more visitors by creating a sports complex in the city.
"Have one central place where the whole city and county could come together and play," he said. "If you get one that's big enough and done right, you can have all kind of state tournaments here, and that brings in money. That's another aspect of having a sports complex. It's not just to spend money. It's to make money for the city of Columbia."
McKenzie said for anyone to consider visiting and to get the people living there to stay, the city needs sprucing.
"That goal is to change the city's image," he said. "We're going to try to improve not only what the city owns as far city property and the image of that and our corridors in and out of town, but overall, we're going to try to encourage the communities to change."
McKenzie also said that should help increase home and property values, and Griffith agreed.
"Nobody wants to come and move to an ugly city that's dysfunctional," he said. "Nobody wants to bring their businesses to an ugly city. They're not going to bring their employees, their executives into a city that's not maintained properly."
The winner of the Republican primary will face either Glen McKenzie or Calvin "Scope" Newsome, both democrats, in the general election on June 6. McKenzie and Newsome were not available for interviews on Tuesday.