So much for city-county consolidation

Published 12:10am Friday, September 14, 2012

For five years there was a standoff in the Hillyer station wagon. When my parents first purchased the faux-wood paneled vehicle the stare-downs began.

In the 1970s, car seats did not exist. Back then parents allowed their children to sit in the back seat, front seat and even in their laps while driving. Cars were a child’s frontier to be explored — even when mom and dad were driving. That is unless you had a brother or sister. In that case territories were established and boundaries were drawn.

In the Hillyer station wagon, the boundary line ran down the center of the back seat. Any unauthorized encroachment elicited an all-out war between parties.

That boundary, imaginary though it was, was as real as a brick wall.

You could say the same thing for that other imaginary line we call the Natchez city limits.

In the past couple of weeks any real prospects of consolidation between the City of Natchez and Adams County have taken some serious hits.

The biggest hit, of course, is the total collapse of the city-county’s interlocal agreement on fire protection.

The agreement has been in place since the mid-1990s. In recent years the county has paid the city more than a half-a-million dollars annually to provide fire protection for the county. Whenever the consolidation issue came up, representatives from both parties would point to fire protection as one example of the city and county working together.

That is no longer an option, since the county decided to decline both the city’s request for an additional $132,000 and their counter offer to provide fire protection for $500,000 for structure fires only.

Any future for consolidation also suffered a setback when Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown announced his plans to pull an officer from Metro-Narcotics unless the county gave the city a share of the $80,000 recently seized by agents.

Brown claims that the city is owed some portion of the money, even though the agreement between the city and county clearly states that funds seized are specifically used to fund Metro.

Clearly, the city and the county are not happy cooperating and at times are suspicious of each other’s motives.

During the joint meeting with the city and county, mayor Brown came across as money hungry and unwilling to consider other options for providing county fire protection. Trying to refute every position the county had on the issue, Brown inferred that he had sufficiently scared fire officials from suggesting the city was charging too much for fire calls.

“He won’t come down here and make those statements again, I assure you,” Brown said of state fire coordinator Larry Barr.

It also appears as if the county has not been totally satisfied with the service they have been getting from the city, pointing to the likelihood that county houses will burn down before the city fire trucks can reach them.

After listening to the two groups go back and forth on an issue they had an entire year to work out, I am convinced more than ever that the current climate between the two groups is not unlike the Hillyer skirmishes in the station wagon back seat.

As long as the boundary line we call the city limits exists, animosity and suspicions will persist among city and county leaders and between city residents and county residents who live outside the city.

Listening to the two groups makes me wonder if consolidation will ever be possible as long our politicians continue to jockey for position.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.