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County responds to city’s recreation statements, says director key to moving forward

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors returned barbs to their colleagues across the street Wednesday about why a consolidated recreation program hasn’t moved forward.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez board of aldermen, members of the Natchez board said they did not believe the county had an equal commitment to recreation in terms of buy-in and the hold-up was on the part of the county government. The comments came at the prompting of a concerned resident.

The supervisors responded at a meeting Wednesday, saying the county was willing to discuss taking on recreation capital improvements, but not before a recreation director, who could come up with a comprehensive plan that would tell them how the money would be spent, was hired.

“We are not going to write an open-ended check until we have a director to give us some direction,” Supervisor Mike Lazarus said.

“Every dollar (the city has) in recreation is already obligated. It is obligated to youth basketball, to the tennis program — they built that monster. Every dollar we give them is strictly unobligated, and we have already said we are going to maintain our (county parks).”

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said a past experience with city recreation has made him leery of committing money without a recreation operating plan in place.

Grennell said 17 years ago the city approached the county, asking for $30,000 to repair the city pool. Though the supervisors were split on the vote, the request was approved and the county gave the city a check.

“It wasn’t three months later, they shut the pool down and they didn’t give us our money back,” Grennell said.

Supervisor David Carter said he does not know how the holdup can be on the county because the county has always gone with the recommendation of the Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission, which will ostensibly hire a director to run a consolidated program.

The county has agreed to fund a director’s position and provide a vehicle for the director, but has asked the city to turn over its entire recreation budget to the director.

The city has suggested turning over all of its recreation budget except for golf — which makes up approximately half of the budgeted $1 million for city recreation — and has suggested the county needs to commit to paying in significantly more than the recreation director’s position and the county’s $50,000 annual recreation budget.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, who spoke about the issue at Tuesday’s aldermen’s meeting, said Wednesday she believes the way the county can demonstrate it is “all in” on recreation is by dedicating a recreation millage.

“When we put the recreation initiative on the ballot, we should have told the public this is what we expect it to cost and this is what you may expect as a tax levee,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

“The people will say ‘We voted for this,’ but there is no money. (The county) also needs to look at the fact that city residents are already paying bills for recreation.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved in 2009 a countywide, non-binding referendum supporting a consolidated recreation program.

The referendum said the program would be funded by “a bond and/or other financial device in an amount to be determined but not to exceed $5.450,000.”

County Board attorney Scott Slover said the county should likewise wait until Natchez Regional Medical Center’s bankruptcy is resolved before committing to other projects.

“When you have an asset of the county going through Chapter 9 proceedings, you have to let that run its course before you take on something else,” Slover said.

County Administrator Joe Murray said the end result of a consolidated recreation program would be a net positive for the city because the recreation program will generate sales, restaurant and hotel taxes.

The supervisors, aldermen and Natchez-Adams School District board — which has committed to allowing the use of NASD properties in recreation — met last week with the recreation commission, but the meeting ended without consensus on a plan to move forward.