City officials defend use of gaming fund

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Natchez officials say a decision Tuesday to pull more than $400,000 from the city’s gaming fund does not contradict a recent pledge to leave the fund for capital improvements.

At this week’s meeting, the Natchez Board of Aldermen approved transfer of gaming funds to make up for shortfalls in the general budget and budgets of the recreation department and the Natchez Senior Multi-Purpose Center.

At the request of City Clerk Donnie Holloway, the aldermen loaned $30,000 to the city’s general budget for the November payroll, up to $300,000 for December payroll, $67,000 to the senior center for insurance and other costs and $20,000 to the recreation department for general operation costs.

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In October, several city officials said a hiring freeze on city employees and an across-the-board budget cut, the latter of which went into effect in earlier this month, would help them curb what had become a habit of &uot;dipping&uot; into the gaming fund to cover shortfalls.

Holloway said Tuesday’s vote does not change the city’s commitment to leave the gaming fund for its intended purpose of one-time capital improvements, because the transfers are loans and will be repaid as soon as funds become available.

Funding secured from the Mississippi Department of Transportation for the senior center will arrive next month and will be used to reimburse the gaming fund for the loan, Holloway said.

Also, ad valorem tax collections beginning in January will replace borrowed money for the general budget and recreation department, which receives 2 mills of the city’s tax collection.

And sales tax revenues collected in October will be returned from the state during the first half of December, Holloway said.

An anticipated increase in sales tax collections and the recent budget cuts should offset the request for $300,000 for December payrolls, he said.

&uot;More than likely, we won’t need that much, but it keeps us from having to come back to the table,&uot; Holloway said.

Aldermen, including Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West (Ward 4) and Joyce Arceneaux (Ward 1) also said the transfers were loans that will be repaid.

&uot;What we said (in October) was we were going to quit dipping into (the gaming fund) and not putting it back,&uot; West said. &uot;We’re trying to get to the point where we don’t do that.&uot;

West compared the gaming fund to a savings account, which can be called until other funds arrive.

Arceneaux said the transfers are needed &uot;to keep those programs running smoothly&uot; until funding arrives from other sources after the first of the year.

Because the gaming fund is based on fluctuating casino revenues, it is an unstable source of funds, she said, and one that the city should not rely on for recurring expenses.

&uot;We want to make sure when we’re dealing with gaming, that it’s a one-time expenditure,&uot; Arceneaux said, adding that the gaming fund is intended to enhance the city’s budget, not support it.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sue Stedman said it is not unusual for the city — or other governments — to &uot;run short&uot; near the end of the year.

&uot;We’re fortunate we have the gaming fund,&uot; otherwise, the city might have to take an outside loan from a bank and be faced with interest charges, she said.

&uot;We’re borrowing from ourselves, that’s basically what it comes down to,&uot; Stedman said.