Aldermen say split vote a compromise

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 8, 2000

Tuesday night’s vote on a city tax increase may have been a split, but it was also a compromise, several Natchez aldermen said.

Aldermen voted 3-3 on a motion to raise city taxes by 13 percent, forcing Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith to cast the deciding vote and pass the tax increase, which is just more than half of the planned 7.428 mill increase.

&uot;I see the four mills as somewhat of a compromise,&uot; Stedman said.

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Although she voted for the reduced amount, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sue Stedman said she still believes the larger increase was, and still is, needed.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway agreed. &uot;We got something out of it,&uot; Holloway said. &uot;It’s better than nothing.&uot;

The compromise came after more than 150 taxpayers packed the city council chambers Tuesday night, demanding accountability and asking the aldermen to reconsider.

Stedman said many of the aldermen were &uot;overwhelmed&uot; by the response from the community.

&uot;When you see the day-to-day people, the fabric of the community, you have to listen,&uot; Stedman said.

Smith said the comments from the public did not change his mind, but rather reinforced his opinion that a 22 percent tax could be trimmed back.

But, Smith did hold firm that the 4.199 mill increase that was passed Tuesday is absolutely necessary to service the city’s bond debt.

Also at the meeting, Smith voted against another split motion to delay the increase for one year.

&uot;You could study it another week, another month, or to the first of the year and those numbers are not going to change,&uot; Smith said of the bond debt.

Ward 4 Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West first proposed postponing the tax increase.

While he still supports the tax increase itself, West said he has some concerns after hearing the citizens at Tuesday night’s meeting and talking with constituents since the proposed tax increase was first announced.

West he is &uot;proud of every vote he has made over the past nine years&uot; as alderman, but the board may not have been as informative to the community as it could be, the &uot;timing&uot; of the tax increase could be wrong and the new administration has not had &uot;adequate time to assess where we are.&uot;

&uot;We need to reassess our position, exhaust all possible avenues and bring back to the community something we can all be proud of,&uot; West said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux was the only alderman to vote against a preliminary budget on Aug. 22, which included the 7.428 tax increase.

Arceneaux said she agrees with several taxpayers’ calls for a referendum on the tax increase.

Like West, Arcenueax said she is not opposed to a tax increase, but the taxpayers should have been told about it prior to the spring elections.

In fact, Arceneaux said the mention of an increase surprised her too, because it was never mentioned that approving city projects during the past four years would eventually lead to a raise in taxes.

&uot;You hate to say nobody told you, but it wasn’t discussed,&uot; Arceneaux said. &uot;For me, it was a ludicrous tax increase from the start.&uot;

Ward 5 Alderman David Massey said the should be expected since the city has not raised taxes in 15 years.

&uot;If we sit here and fool ourselves into thinking it’s not going to take more money to run this city, we’ve got our heads stuck in the mud,&uot; Massey said Tuesday.

City Attorney Walter Brown also said the original 22 percent tax increase was reasonable.

&uot;I thought it was a good, sound plan; I thought the board also thought the same thing,&uot; Brown said.

All three of the board’s white aldermen voted against postponing the tax increase for one year and also voted for the reduced tax increase, but all aldermen agreed the split was unrelated to race.

&uot;I think that’s just the way it fell,&uot; Stedman said.

Several aldermen also agreed the compromise had nothing to do with securing votes for reelection.

&uot;There comes a time when you have to make decision based on what you think is right for the city, not based on whether you get reelected or not,&uot; Stedman said.

Smith agreed his vote was for the city, not for his supporters.

&uot;I ran on a platform of attempting to be fair and do what’s right for this city,&uot; Smith said. &uot;This decision did not change what I ran on.&uot;

&uot;(My vote) was not what some supporters hoped for, but it still falls on me alone,&uot; he said.

Funds lost from the reduced tax increase will have to be made up in appropriations and moving money around in the general fund,

&uot;We’re going to have no choice but to cut back on some appropriations,&uot; Stedman said. &uot;It’s got to come from somewhere.&uot;

Smith also said the money will have to come from cuts in services, including personnel.

&uot;I think we can tighten our belt a little,&uot; Smith said.

But, Holloway said that is going to prove difficult.

&uot;We’re working on a thin budget,&uot; Holloway said. &uot;There’s not a lot of cuts to get in to.&uot;