Officials:We’ll roll up sleeves on recreation

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 7, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Admittedly, with the closure of International Paper and other economic woes in recent months, recreation plans haven’t been at the top of local government officials’ priority lists.

Still, local government officials said Thursday they’ll roll up their sleeves soon to have plans and estimates for recreation improvements on the ballot in November.

The city is working to lease from the Park Service 68 acres north of Natchez High.

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Local officials have proposed placing ballfields, walking trails and pavilions on that site, the &uot;beanfield.&uot;

With upgrades at Liberty and Duncan parks, cost estimates have run as high as $15 million.

A Joint Recreation Advisory Board with representatives from the city, county and school district must have specifics on the proposal and its cost to the Secretary of State’s Office by August.

That has to be done so that a proposed bond issue to pay for the improvements can be placed on the November ballot.

Members of that board met regularly and even toured recreation complexes throughout the state to gather information.

They now need about $30,000 from the city, county and school boards for an architectural study, said Recreation Board Chairman Joe Eidt.

&uot;That’s the only way we’ll be able to get cost estimates Š to put on the ballot,&uot; Eidt said Wednesday. &uot;I sent (the boards) a letter in November, though, and so far I haven’t heard back from them.&uot;

Local officials are still drafting an interlocal agreement allowing the city, county and school boards to enter into a joint agreement for the purpose of recreation, and that would have to be approved by the Attorney General’s Office, said City Attorney Walter Brown.

The steps needed to execute a lease for the ballfield property, including an archaeological study and environmental assessment, slowed the project down.

And with IP’s announcement, city officials are busy &uot;taking a sober look at the economy,&uot; Brown said.

Even Alderman Jake Middleton, who has pushed for recreation upgrades, admitted that constituents are now more interested in finding and keeping jobs than in ballfields, pools or horse arenas.

&uot;But we’ll have to take a look at it soon,&uot; said Middleton, referring to the recreation issue.

In fact, he plans to discuss it with Brown and the other aldermen at Tuesday’s aldermen meeting.

Lynwood Easterling, president of the Board of Supervisors, also said he plans to bring the subject up at that board’s next meeting on Feb. 18.

&uot;We’re still looking for funds&uot; to help pay for such an architectural study,&uot; Easterling said. Another problem is that the board, while meeting informally, does not yet have legal authority to hire an architect. That must come from the Secretary of State’s Office, and the necessary papers have not been filed there yet.

&uot;We need the legal authority in order to keep politics out of it,&uot; Eidt said. &uot;If we can keep politics out of it, we can get something that will benefit the whole community.&uot;

Until then, and until funding is found for architect’s plans, Eidt said, &uot;we’ve done all we can do.&uot;