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Recreation commission request hits stumbling block with city

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission is attempting to take a step toward the starting line again by hiring a joint city and county recreation director.

But that step seemed to turn into a hurdle at Tuesday’s Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting when Commission Chair Tate Hobdy requested permission from the board to hire a director that would oversee both city and county recreation.

The city, Hobdy said, would contribute $15,000 annually for its share of the director’s salary plus benefits, the city’s recreation budget and a vehicle already in the city’s inventory. The county would contribute $45,000 annually for the salary.

The reason for those contributions, Hobdy said, is because the city has a larger recreation department, budget and a staff.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery, the city’s recreation committee chair and ex officio member of the recreation commission, said the commission has worked since the recreation referendum overwhelmingly passed in 2009 to get a plan in place with little help from the city and the county.

“The city and the county, we just sit idle and do nothing,” he said.

Fortenbery said if no progress is soon made on recreation, he believes the commission can just be dissolved. Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields stopped Fortenbery, indicating he did not think that was the solution.

“Well, they’ve been working their tails off,” Fortenbery said.

Fields said that the aldermen needed to agree that they would bring recreation back to the forefront of city business. He said the board has recently been occupied with other business.

“We haven’t really thought and talked about recreation in this administration,” he said.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said getting a director in place would at least be a step in the direction for what the people have asked.

Mayor Butch Brown said he and Fortenbery met with the recreation commission and told the commission they believed the city would support the commission’ request if the county also contributed to hiring a director.

“I think if we have that person in place, and it’s affordable to the city, we can make steps together to a good city-county program,” he said.

“Unless the county steps up and does something, I think your meetings could be once a quarter instead of once a month,” Brown said.

Hobdy said he has met with a few county supervisors who have asked why there is a need for a director for the county.

The director, Hobdy said, would be in charge of the county’s nine parks.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard, who previously served on the city’s recreation committee, said the city has been waiting for the county to step up to provide some support for recreation.

Dillard said he believed the city’s and county’s contributions needed to be almost equal.

The city’s recreation budget is more than $1 million. Hobdy said he did not believe the county would contribute almost half of that as Dillard proposed.

“I’m not talking about percentages, I’m talking about two entities working together,” Hobdy said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she believed the board needed to further discuss hiring a recreation director until it could determine what part of the recreation budget would be put under the director’s oversight and what hiring a new director would mean for the department’s current employees.

Hobdy said it is not the wish of the commission to lay off any recreation employees and he said the commission hoped that positive revenue would allow more employees to be hired.

Mathis and other aldermen pointed out that the city’s golf program is now managed by an independent company.

Hobdy said the recreation commission would like to see golf and all other recreation programs under the umbrella of the director.

Hobdy said he understood the the board’s need to further discuss hiring a director, but he asked the board to give the commission a date on which they could expect action.

“It’s painful for me to try to get my board members together when they know nothing is going to happen,” he said.

In other news from the meeting:

-Brown broke a 3-3 tie twice for a vote to rezone property at 114 High Street from R-3 mixed density residential to B-2 general business district.

The rezoning was previously unanimously approved by the planning commission at the request of property owner Rena Jean Schmieg, who said a company plans to open a coffee shop on the property.

The company owner said the shop will operate from 7 or 8 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m. and sell specialty coffees and vintage coffee making equipment.

Mathis made a motion to deny the request because she had not had time to talk to the adjacent landowner. The property is in Mathis’ ward.

Mathis, Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray and Fields voted for the motion. Smith, Fortenbery and Dillard voted against it. Brown broke the tie voting against the motion.

Brown broke the same 3-3 tie voting for a motion to approve the rezoning.

-The board opted to postpone rezoning action on three contiguous lots in the vicinity of 91 Kelly Ave., from industrial to mixed density residential until the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality could be contacted to ensure the lots were safe for development. Nearby resident Cornelius Bradley voiced concerns against the rezoning because, he said, a chemical spill years ago has contaminated some property in the area.


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