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Officials stall recreation director hire

NATCHEZ — Natchez city officials declined to act on the proposal to hire a joint city-county recreation director after raising questions of oversight, salary appropriations and — ultimately — how much money the city and county would obligate to a joint recreation program.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez Board of Aldermen had a joint meeting Thursday with representatives of the Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission. One member of the Natchez-Adams County School District’s board of trustees, Tim Blalock, was also present to represent the school board.

The recreation commission has proposed that the first step toward a countywide recreation program — and ultimately, a new recreation complex — is to hire a joint recreation director. Under the proposal, Adams County would provide $45,000 for salary annually and turn over its $50,000 recreation budget to the director, and the City of Natchez would provide $15,000 a year for salary, employee benefits and a vehicle.

“A large portion of (what the director will do) will be programming, budgeting and doing capital campaigns until we can get a full program going,” recreation commission chair Tate Hobdy said. “That way, when we get to a complex, we are putting it in capable hands.”

The supervisors have already allocated a prorated $15,000 for the current fiscal year, and supervisors President Darryl Grennell said the board will take up the matter of the full salary when planning for next fiscal year. Hobdy said using the same prorate that the county has used, the city would have to allocate $5,000 for the current year.

But Natchez Mayor Butch Brown expressed concern about allocating any money at the moment.

“The city is still going to be having to maintain a recreation program while this thing is ramping up,” Brown said. “We can’t detract from our program while this one is ramping up. We don’t have the money to add for another recreational package.

“We can’t afford to pay benefits on top of salary. We can’t afford to pay fuel and oil.”

Brown also contended that the issue of benefits had not been brought up in previous discussions, though Alderman Mark Fortenbery, Hobdy and recreation commission member Bubba Kaiser all disagreed with the mayor’s assertion.

Alderman Dan Dillard also expressed concern that the county is willing to commit $50,000 in programming funds to the project, but he said the county also needs to commit the funds the county uses for maintenance of its parks. Based on what he had been told, Dillard said, that amount came to $250,000.

“If the county is committed to moving forward on this, they need to commit $250,000 to the project,” he said.

“If the city turns over its budget, which includes maintenance, the county should also turn over funds for maintenance.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said county maintenance employees keep up the parks.

“I don’t know how you are going to do it any cheaper than we are doing it now even if you can,” he said.

“(Under this agreement), we would continue to maintain our parks and pay the light bills. I didn’t see a point in writing y’all a check for $200,000 to do what we are already doing as cheap as we think we can.”

Hobdy said that the county’s continued maintenance of the parks could be considered in-kind contributions.

“Those services have value,” he said. “We are not trying to bog this director down with so much maintenance.”

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked how the director would be kept accountable.

“Our budget and all of our people will now be answering to somebody who we have no jurisdiction over,” she said. “We have too many departments that are being operated by people who don’t have to answer to us.”

Supervisors’ Board Attorney Scott Slover said the director would be answerable to the recreation commission, which was created by the aldermen, the supervisors and the NASD trustees.

“The director has to answer to that board, so if he misappropriates that money he has to answer to them,” Slover said.

Hobdy said the point of the proposal was to take the two existing programs and assimilate them to work together, and to make that happen the new program would need a director, who would act as a point man.

“Right now, we are not talking about dollars,” Kaiser said. “All we are trying to do is get a person to start an organization in essence to take the politics out of this.”

Dillard replied that when someone says an issue is not about money, “it is always about the money.”

After several of the supervisors had to leave the meeting, the aldermen decided to further discuss the proposal amongst themselves next week.

Brown attended the meeting via teleconference. The mayor was resting at home after a corrective surgical procedure he had at MD Anderson Cancer Center earlier this week. The procedure was to correct a previous surgery performed after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and treated for three reoccurrences. Brown said he is cancer-free and received an excellent report from his doctors.

“The corrective surgery just limited my movement,” he said. “I am assuming the pain will subside in a couple of days. There has been no change in my cancer status; I am still cancer-free.”

In other news:

4The supervisors met briefly in executive session to discuss an economic development prospect.

4The supervisors adopted a resolution that would allow a consulting group to develop a proposal to create a health care zone in Adams County.

If the zone is put in place, it will free up tax credits for the development of new residences along St. Catherine and Martin Luther King Jr. streets, Brown said.