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Making progress: Mayor happy with direction of city

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez Mayor Butch Brown is reflected in the sign on his City Hall office door Friday morning as he discusses city business. Brown says he is very happy with the progress of the city and his administration since he was sworn into office in July.

 

NATCHEZ — Nearly halfway through his first year on the job, Mayor Butch Brown said he is “extremely happy” with the progress the city has made so far in his administration.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez mayor Butch Brown discusses some of the things that have been accomplished in his first half of his first year in office.

Although Brown pointed out that he did not put timelines with any of the goals he made before taking office, he is pleased that several areas of city government have already been addressed.

Cleaning up the city

The city, Brown said, worked quickly after he took office July 2 to clean up, starting with city properties.

Repairs were made to City Hall, and the city council chambers were cleaned inside and out, Brown said.

Brown also met with Entergy and other utility companies to create a plan to minimize the number of utility poles and exposed wires in the city, he said, in an effort to make the city more attractive.

“One of the things I focused on early is making sure the city has a new face, and one that people would readily see and appreciate,” he said.

In addition to cleaning up the appearance of the city, Brown has plans to repurpose a few city buildings.

Brown recently announced plans to relocate the Natchez Farmers’ Market to the former railroad depot on Broadway Street. That would also involve relocating the Cock of the Walk restaurant and the Old South Trading Post.

Additions would be made to the depot, and demonstration gardens and a playground put on the bluff in the area spanning from the former pecan factory site to the depot.

The project is in the fundraising stage, and Brown said he hopes to have it under way as soon as possible.

One of the main reasons for relocating the farmers’ market to the depot, Mayor Butch Brown, is to obtain funding to renovate the depot, which he said needs extensive repairs.

First Natchez Radio Group has also expressed interest in leasing the Natchez City Auditorium, which Brown said will allow revenue from that lease to be used to better upkeep the building.

Brown also said the city is close to a deal involving Brumfield Apartments that would also generate revenue for the city from the sale of the property.

“One of my main goals when I took office was to find new revenue streams for the city,” he said.

Brown declined to comment on the specifics of the Brumfield deal until it is complete.

New faces at City Hall

Since Brown took office, the city has hired a new city planner, a community development director and two accountants for the city clerk’s office.

Brown said he is very happy to have those people in place because, he said, they will help move the city in the right direction.

In addition to hiring and adding new positions at City Hall, Brown said he is very happy the city was able to give its employees raises this year.

The aldermen, except Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith and Ward 5 Mark Fortenbery, as well as City Clerk Donnie Holloway and Municipal Judge Jim Blough also received raises. Smith and Fortenbery opted to not receive the raises.

Working together

Brown campaigned on promises of transparency and consensus on the board of aldermen. Aside from still lengthy aldermen meetings, Brown said he is pleased with the unity on the board of aldermen.

The meetings, he said, are better run, and he said there has only been one vote for which he had to break a tie.

“I’m always working toward consensus because I think that is a very important message to send,” he said.

Magnolia Bluffs Casino

Brown said the city has been working in the last few months to tie up loose ends with the Roth Hill Road casino before its scheduled opening on Dec. 18.

Those loose ends, Brown said, include conducting mechanical, electrical and safety inspections that had not been completed.

“In the zeal and zest of trying to get this casino, the former administration may have moved quickly and beyond a well thought out timeline,” he said.

The city has expressed concern over the casino not having a secondary access road for emergency vehicles, but Brown said in lieu of secondary access, the city has ensured that the casino has a top-notch fire alarm and sprinkler system.

On the horizon

With new management at Duncan Park Golf Course and a simpler fee schedule, Brown said the city is focusing on recreational opportunities outside the golf course. That focus includes the various parks around town and also working with the recreation committee on advancing plans on the proposed recreation complex.

The city is also preparing to update its building codes and zoning ordinances to make them more “user and business friendly,” Brown said. The current code, he said, is not tailored to meet the needs of Natchez.

Revamping the code, Brown said, will expedite approvals for development and make the code easier to understand for the public.

The city, Brown said, is also working with the Natchez Downtown Development Association to renew the city’s Mississippi Main Street Association membership. That will involve, he said, hiring a NDDA director. The city will pay a portion of the director’s salary, Brown said.

NDDA is responsible for operating the Main Street program, but local budget cuts forced the Mississippi Main Street Association to not recommend national accreditation.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen cut its annual $25,000 allocation to the NDDA during budget hearings in 2009. The amount covered NDDA Executive Director Mease Banks’ salary.

Planning efforts for the city’s 2016 tricentennial celebration are under way, and Brown said many projects in the city, including relocating the farmers’ market to the depot, are in preparation for the tricentennial’s 365-day celebration.

“We are organized and staffed with volunteers, and I’m expecting huge things from that effort,” he said.

Revitalizing Martin Luther King Jr. Street is also on Brown’s list of goals. Brown said Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director Mimi Miller is working with Habitat for Humanity, which has built houses on the street and currently has one under construction, to redesign houses to meet historic preservation codes.

“Everything that happens on Martin Luther King Jr. Street from now on is going to meet stricter and stronger review,” he said.

Brown said he is committed to making the street one of the most attractive Martin Luther King Jr. streets in the country.

Once the street gets a makeover, Brown said the city will move into the neighboring areas to clean up the neighborhoods.

“Dirty people don’t like clean places,” he said. “If you clean up the neighborhoods, the thugs and the bullies and the trashy people will leave.”

Overall, Brown said he is happy with the direction in which the city is headed.

“Most of the credit goes to the people I work with,” he said.