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City: We are waiting on county funding on recreation

NATCHEZ — Joint city-county recreation plans struck out Tuesday during a heated meeting with City of Natchez leaders who ultimately said a greater financial commitment from the county was needed before the city would move forward.

Members of the Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission and Natchez Board of Aldermen discussed, for more than 30 minutes, the possibility of the city turning over its recreation budget and existing facilities.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis requested commission chair Tate Hobdy appear before the board, saying she wanted to understand what was happening with recreation and what specifically the county had recently approved.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors approved Monday a letter of intent to fund recreation projects at the request of the future director they hope to soon hire.

Hobdy said the agreement from the county was one step in the direction the commission needed to hire the director. The second step would be an agreement from the city to turn over its budget and facilities.

Those proceedings, Hobdy said, would help recruit a director to the area by offering that person control over a larger operation instead of just city or county recreation.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors have committed to paying $45,000 for the director’s salary plus benefits, which would likely total an estimated $50,000.

City leaders said Tuesday they didn’t believe that contribution was significant enough to equal the $1.4 million recreation budget the city manages and wanted a document detailing a specific dollar amount the county would invest beyond the director’s salary and benefits.

After conversations escalated between aldermen and Hobdy on why the county won’t put more of a monetary contribution other than the director’s salary and benefits, Mayor Butch Brown said the city would not move forward without a greater financial commitment from the county.

“I don’t think the city is going to give a blank check without some assurance from the county of what their level of participation is and when it’s going to happen,” Brown said. “I hope the commission or the county, either one, doesn’t think we’re going to go ahead and turn over our recreation program and budget without a promise from the county.”

Hobdy replied saying Brown’s attitude would harm recreation in the community.

“I think if that’s the position you take, recreation will flounder in Natchez and Adams County for another five years,” Hobdy said.

Brown quickly replied saying that would not be the case.

“I promise you it won’t flounder,” Brown said. “As long as I’m sitting in this chair, we’re going to work on recreation.

“We said many, many times we’re ready to go, and we’ll go without them.”

Alderman Mark Fortenbery, who is the city’s recreation committee chair, said he felt a commitment from the county to spend $1.4 million, which is what the city would invest annually, would only be fair.

Hobdy said he felt that setting any dollar amount to request from the county would be premature without a director in place.

“Requesting $1.4 million from them, I think it will limit ourselves in some ways that are not preferable,” Hobdy said.

Alderman Dan Dillard suggested Hobdy, who is appointed by the city to serve on the commission, suggest the county agree to a proposal of paying $3.4 million over 17 years, which would total a similar amount that the city is agreeing to give up in tax money through the sale of Natchez Regional Medical Center.

Hobdy questioned the timeline and amount of Dillard’s request, but Dillard said he didn’t feel as if Hobdy had the best interest of the city at heart in the recreation deal.

“I don’t think you have the spirit of representing the city’s position in this,” Dillard said. “And this is disconcerting.”

Hobdy replied with a suggestion of his own saying Dillard could “fire me by all means” to which Dillard replied, “that would be easy enough.”

Brown quickly interrupted and said nothing productive was coming from the conversations.

“You’re not giving us a solution,” Brown said. “This board is not prepared to turn over $1.4 (million) a year when the county is going to appropriate $50,000.”

Brown said the city would soon need to decide if pursuing recreation on its own would be the best option.

“The train is ready to leave the station, but we’re still waiting for the supervisors to step up,” Brown said. “We’re just not getting anything but promises.”

Hobdy said he would return to the board of supervisors to see if the letter of intent approved Monday could be amended to include a specific dollar amount.

Supervisor David Carter, who is the county’s liaison to the recreation commission, said after the meeting he was tired of the back and forth between the two boards.

“This is just getting absolutely ridiculous,” Carter said. “I think the county has said we want to move forward and hiring the director is the first step.

“The letter of intent says we would do whatever the director says is in the best interest of Adams County.”

Carter said he agreed with Hobdy that putting a dollar amount on the deal without a director in place would be foolish.

“You can put a figure on there all you want, but nobody really knows what that figure is because we don’t have the director in place,” Carter said. “We are willing to do what the director tells us and that number they come up with could be completely different than what we come up with.”