Vote, tax split by aldermen

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Three hours and more than 150 concerned citizens Tuesday night yielded a split vote on a proposed tax increase — and a split in the tax itself.

Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith broke two tie votes and approved a 4.199 mill increase in the city’s ad valorem taxes.

The increase is just more than half of the planned 7.428 increase, which had included funds for debt service, the city library and the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority.

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The approved tax increase will only go toward servicing the city’s bond indebtedness, with library and EDA funding coming from other appropriations and the general fund.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux, Ward 2 Alderman James &uot;Ricky&uot; Gray and Ward 4 Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West voted against the increase; Ward 3 Alderwoman Sue Stedman, Ward 5 Alderman David Massey and Ward 6 Alderman Jake Middleton voted in favor of the reduced increase.

The vote followed another tying motion to postpone the original 7.428 increase for one year.

The vote was split in the same way among the aldermen, with Smith casting the deciding vote not to put off the vote.

City Attorney Walter Brown recommended to the board that the vote not be put off, because a postponement would surely lead to an even greater tax increase to make up for lost time and added interest.

Prior to the final roll call vote, Massey reminded the mayor and aldermen they can revisit the city budget in six months and make changes at that time.

Several community members took advantage of a three-minute comment period allotted by the mayor and aldermen, which also restricted comments to the proposed budget and tax increase.

Several citizens spoke out against the three-minute time limit, including former mayoral candidate John &uot;Pulleybone&uot; Pullen and Adams County Supervisor Darryl Grennell.

&uot;It’s unfair,&uot; Grennell said. &uot;It paints a picture you could possibly be preset (in your decision).&uot;

Other citizens called for a voter referendum on the tax increase or asked the aldermen to be sure a tax increase is necessary before approving it.

Instead of raising taxes, local businessman Gene Simonton said the city should halt construction of the convention center, reduce the number of city employees, put unused city properties on the open market and reduce aldermen salaries.

Simonton and Pullen said the aldermen make $19,000 a year, compared with cities like Hattiesburg, with a population of 48,000, whose aldermen make $6,000 less.

Other taxpayers voiced similar concerns.

&uot;We need to cut some fat before we raise taxes,&uot; John Peterman said.

Bernie Pyron, owner of Pyron’s Furniture, said the aldermen have not been managing the city’s funds wisely.

&uot;If the money is not there, you don’t spend it,&uot; Pyron said.

Another local business owner, Jim McBride, agreed.

&uot;You don’t go out and eat ribeye when you’re broke; you eat hamburgers,&uot; he said.

Elaine Daniels, owner of Daniels Basketry, said the ad valorem tax increase on businesses will force her to cut down on inventory, which will, in turn, reduce the amount the city receives in sales tax revenues.

Some citizens raised concerns about the timing of the tax increase. With members of United Steelworkers of America Local 303L on strike from Titan Tire and International Paper’s Natchez mill up for sale, several taxpayers said a 20 percent tax increase is too much to ask.