Aldermen compile ‘wish’ list

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 21, 2001

Even though Christmas is still seven months away, the City of Natchez began working up its municipal wish list Wednesday with the help of a financial consultant.

Jackson consultant Demery F. Grubbs spent part of Wednesday afternoon work meeting with the Natchez mayor and Board of Aldermen to discuss options the city has for several pending projects.

&uot;It’s like you’re going shopping for Christmas,&uot; Grubbs said. &uot;You’ve got to find a gift you can afford. That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to start getting a list of things together – objectives, wishes and desires of the board.

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&uot;In regular board meetings, you’re usually too tied up with other business to discuss a lot of things,&uot; Grubbs said.

&uot;This is a good opportunity to discuss things,&uot; said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith. &uot;And we can take the gloves off a bit. But in the end we’re all together …&uot;

&uot;… In whatever’s good for Natchez,&uot; Alderman David Massey said, finishing Smith’s sentence.

Attending the work session held at a Pearl Street residence were the mayor, City Attorney Walter Brown, City Clerk Donnie Holloway and aldermen Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West, Ricky Gray, Jake Middleton,&160;Sue Stedman and Massey. Joyce Arceneaux was absent.

Key among the items discussed were the need to continue to pursue the development of a recreational complex, the next phase of the federal courthouse project in downtown and the future development of the Roth’s Hill Road site along the Mississippi River front.

Grubbs, the former mayor of Vicksburg and longtime municipal financial consultant, said the key on the recreational complex was to get the input from the county.

&uot;Y’all are unique,&uot; Grubbs said. &uot;You’ve got one city in the county. Y’all are together whether you like it or not.&uot;

All at the table agreed.

&uot;We can’t stand alone,&uot; Massey said.

&uot;If you can get the school system involved – guess what?&uot; Grubbs said. &uot;It all comes out of the same tax money. If the school system, the county and the city can come together on it, the taxpayers will benefit.&uot;

Brown suggested forming a bus trip for key people involved – representatives with the city, county and Natchez-Adams School District – to visit a new recreational complex in Laurel to gather ideas and help with momentum on the project.

The city, county, school district and National Park Service have discussed building a $16 million recreational complex near Natchez High School at an area known as the &uot;beanfield.&uot; But currently the project is stalled due to problems with some of the land involved.

Specifically the park service will not allow construction on the property prior to an archeological study since the site is believed to be site of an early French and English settlement.

On the federal courthouse, Brown said the issue is going to happen with the city and county each footing about $500,000 to get the project off the ground. The City’s first public hearing will be held July 24.

Alderman also said the Roth’s Hill development is key to the city’s tourism future.

&uot;Roth’s Hill is our golden goose,&uot; Massey said.

Brown said Grubbs was advising the city for no cost, and Grubbs will come back in a few weeks to offer some preliminary ideas and a better list of priority items.

At that point, Grubbs said, he’ll be able to better discuss alternative ways to finance items if additional financing is needed.

Also discussed by the board were:

— Possibly revisiting the city’s sign ordinance, particularly in regard to signs not within any historic district. Board members said most of the ordinance needs to remain the same, but several took issue with a portion of the ordinance that limits the amount of flush-mounted signage that can be placed on the front of a building.

— Carriage fees. Smith brought up the issue of particular aspects of the tourism ordinance – specifically as it related to carriage and motor coach fees.

&uot;I don’t think it’s fair these folks have been singled out,&uot; Smith said.

Most of the aldermen disagreed.

&uot;They pay no sales tax,&uot; Massey said.&160;&uot;If I get me a carriage, a horse and a gift of gab, I’m making $40,000 or $50,000 a year – virtually tax-free. Because Uncle Sam doesn’t know how many people I give rides to.

&uot;If you’re going to make money on this city, then you’re going to pay taxes on it. Thank God the garden clubs have preserved our city as well as they have.&uot;

For veteran members of the board the issue was a touchy one as the initial implementation of the fees came with much debate and rancor.

&uot;We took what everybody else (in other tourism markets) paid, and we cut it in half,&uot; Brown said.

— And the need to streamline the process necessary to build new construction and/or renovate existing construction outside historic areas. The move is needed, Smith said, to become more &uot;pro-business.&uot;