How are city leaders doing after first year in office?
NATCHEZ — After one year under a new administration, City of Natchez officials and some residents seem happy with the direction the city is headed, but agree more work still needs to be done.
Mayor Butch Brown said his first year back in the mayor’s seat has been a “remarkable” one.
“It really has been (remarkable) when you consider that there were many, many things that needed immediate attention,” he said.
From attempting to solve the ever-present recreation puzzle, coming to an agreement with the county on fire protection and embarking on an extensive scattered-site housing project, Brown said his new administration has been busy.
Changes at Duncan Park Golf Course to make it more efficient and profitable, addressing neglected public properties and giving employees raises also top Brown’s list of first-year achievements.
Brown said hiring a city planner and community development director has turned around the city’s planning and community development department and put it on a path to make positive changes in the community.
Brown said the city has also been very proactive in getting grant money for projects, including $750,000 for the renovation of the former railroad depot and the relocation of the Natchez Farmers Market to the bluff.
Some changes in government, though, may not yet be totally noticeable to residents. Residents seem to agree, however, that the new administration is doing a good job so far.
Richard Branyan, owner of Lower Lodge Antiques and a one-time mayor candidate, said he has not noticed any major improvements in the city.
Branyan said, however, he is pleased with the city’s interest in selling surplus properties.
“I think overall they’re doing a pretty good job,” he said. “They haven’t done anything too stupid yet.”
Branyan also said he would like to see the city take a tougher stand against litter.
Resident Barbara Jones said city streets do look cleaner to her, especially with the new, shiny trashcans residents recently received from Waste Pro USA.
The recent waste collection and disposal contracts with Waste Pro USA, which included new trash cans and recycling bins, is an accomplishment for the city, said Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, chair of the Board of Aldermen’s utilities committee.
Smith and Brown said they are pleased with the city’s partnership with Entergy to eliminate hanging wire clutter and unnecessary power poles.
Brown, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Smith and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said new revenue from the opening of Magnolia Bluffs Casino and the Cemetery Road oil well operation on city property have also been positive for the city.
But after only one year of a four-year term, residents and city officials say plenty remains to be accomplished.
Resident and Upper Kutz Barber Shop owner Jimmie Boclear said he believes the new administration is doing a good job. Boclear said he has just one complaint.
“I think we need more activities for kids, more recreation,” he said.
Arceneaux-Mathis said she would like to see significant progress made soon on recreation, ensuring Natchez children have a public pool in which to swim.
Arceneaux-Mathis said she is particularly proud of the work completed on Buckner Avenue for the North Natchez Drainage Project this year and looks forward to the completion of the next phase of the project.
Resident Linda Gooden said she would like to see the city work more closely with the Natchez-Adams County School Board of Trustees, such as having regular meetings between the two boards.
Gooden, a former district employee, said she would also like the city to take a close look at its school board employees.
“They need to make sure they appoint people to the board that have hearts for the children and what is best for them,” she said.
Paving streets is also another issue Gooden said she hopes the city makes a priority in the next year.
Resident George Vines also said street repairs were at the top of his wish list for the next year, especially High Street near Stanton Hall where Vines takes tourists on horse carriage rides.
“That street is in terrible condition, and tourists are always on it,” he said.
Creating a street inventory list outlining the city’s worst and best streets, Mayor Butch Brown said, has helped the city have a starting point to continual street maintenance.
The city has committed $500,000 to the street program, and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said he would like to see significant progress made on repairing streets in the next few months.
Both Dillard and Smith said they would like to see a concerted effort in the next year to revitalize downtown, which they say may require hiring a director to lead that effort.
One of the most important goals for the second year of their term, the officials say, is getting the city’s financial records completely in order.
“I think we need a clearer idea of our money issues and increased monthly reporting on our finances, so we can know on a monthly basis where we are and where we’re going,” Smith said.
Arceneaux-Mathis said she is optimistic about the year to come.
“I think this has been a good year,” she said. “I believe, for all practical purposes, the board is working well together.”