Supervisors, aldermen host join work session to discuss recreation

Published 12:12am Thursday, August 15, 2013

NATCHEZ — After years of waiting for a clear direction to proceed, members of the Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission told city and county officials Wednesday they needed to come to a consensus about a unified recreation program.

Until that consensus is reached, commission members said, recreation can’t move forward.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez Board of Aldermen had a joint work session to discuss the long-deferred recreation plan overwhelming approved in the 2009 non-binding referendum. The referendum, which carried 78 percent of the vote, said electors approved of the idea of building a recreation complex for not more than $5.4 million on a bean field near Natchez High School.

But the complex that was designed after that referendum was apparently off the table at Wednesday’s meeting, and members of the two boards instead ended up discussing — though not necessarily agreeing to — possible upgrades to the city-owned Duncan Park and possible funding of a unified recreation program.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said Duncan Park has ample space to incorporate all of the elements the recreation commission recommended after the referendum with the exception of softball and soccer fields, and that those two sports can be adequately housed at Liberty Park.

Additions to Duncan Park could include two baseball fields, two tee-ball fields, four tennis courts and a water feature where the old swimming pool is located, he said.

“There is no requirement for new streets or roads and no requirements for water or gas or electricity,” Brown said. “The infrastructure cost at the bean field is quite significant.”

Brown said the Duncan Park upgrades could be done for $1.3 million, a number he said was based on estimates given by contractors and those involved in sports leagues.

Later in the meeting, Brown said the golf course would remain independent of the proposed Duncan Park recreation complex.

The construction at Duncan Park could be funded by a certificate of participation from the county in which the supervisors would pledge to pay $250,000 a year for five years, he said.

Supervisor David Carter — who served on the recreation commission before his election and still serves as a liaison for the county to the commission — said he was not opposed to doing something at Duncan Park, but he would like for the proposal to come with the commission’s endorsement.

“I would love to see something before we go into debt, something aerial,” Carter said. “I would love to see something more detailed and researched from y’all guessing on paper how it will look.”

Brown said he did not hire anybody to draw specific plans because at this point the proposal was just an idea.

“I wanted to wait until I knew there was a level of interest (in the plan) from the county,” he said.

Recreation commission chair Tate Hobdy said the landscape architect the commission has hired in the past could lay out plans to make the Duncan Park proposal work. Carter said he liked the idea because in the past the designer was able to provide several plans from which to work for the same space.

But recreation commission member Bubba Kaiser said that before the commission can move forward, it needs direction for a long-term recreation plan. Past discussions about recreation have included plans to recruit tournaments to the area, he said.

“When we did the big complex (plan), we did an economic impact study,” Kaiser said. “Is that still what we are targeting? If not, Duncan Park is a great idea for what you are looking to do, but Duncan Park is not going to draw an outside tournament. You are not going to park the people who come to those tournaments on the golf course.

“The Duncan Park idea, I am behind it 100 percent if that is what the community wants. Our kids are our priority, but Duncan Park is not going to be an economic impact.”

Kaiser said the commission has been without direction for a year, having to rely on rumors on the street more than official channels. Brown said commission members had been invited to several meetings, but that he had been told Hobdy had refused to come and had quit the commission, to which Hobdy responded those assertions were not true.

Alderman Dan Dillard said he was not in a position to support a recreation plan if he did not know from where funding for the proposal would come and asked if the county was willing to match dollar for dollar the city’s contributions.

“The first thing you start with is your budget,” Dillard said. “You can have a housewife come in with grand ideas about a house, but if you don’t have a banker come in with what you can borrow, you are wasting your time.”

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said he could not commit the county board to a dollar for dollar match at this time because of the commitments the county has made for economic development. Carter said the county has already committed to build the facility and voted on the commission’s recommendation to hire a director for the program should it move forward.

“We have stepped out pretty far,” who said. “Right now it seems that this board is the only one that is taking votes to move forward.”

Dillard countered that he believes it appears the city is the only entity that is willing to pay its fair share for recreation. Brown said the city was willing to proceed if the board knew a plan to move forward was in place and that the city would dedicate its recreation millage to the program.

The city should have greater influence on the commission if it is giving greater funding, Dillard said.

“If the city is providing 80 percent of the funds, the city has 80 percent of the representation,” he said. “Otherwise that’s called taxation without representation.”

Brown said he was not going waste any more time on recreation if all that was going to happen for another year was talk.

“We don’t need to argue about the past, it is gone,” Brown said. “If we are going to build something, we will build something; if we want to build nothing, we will build nothing.”

Hobdy said the next step that needs to happen is for the two boards to meet and “find a uniform positive stance.”

“We brought plans to y’all on how we thought it should be funded, and y’all thought you didn’t want to do that,” he said.

“We have been spinning our wheels for four years, and we are closer in that we have a plan and it is a more achievable plan.”

Kaiser likewise said the city board needs to vote about whether it is going to commit to the commission.

“If you are going to have a confidence in us, we are going to have to have a confidence in y’all,” he said.