Schools, city, county look at rec agreement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; With millions of dollars in recreation improvements at stake, Natchez aldermen are planning their strategy before hitting the field to sell residents on a proposed joint recreation plan.

Natchez aldermen, Adams County supervisors and the Natchez-Adams School Board are being asked this week to sign an interlocal agreement under which they would jointly fund, operate and maintain a countywide recreation program.

Aldermen approved the latest draft of the agreement Tuesday. City Attorney Walter Brown will present the agreement to the school board today for its approval, and county supervisors are expected to pass it April 21.

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Ballfields, walking trails and picnic pavilions at a bean field site just north of Natchez High, improvements at Liberty and Duncan parks, a horse arena and a pool are just some facilities that could be included in the plan.

The project could cost as much as $15 million, those close to the project have estimated, although the project will most likely be done in phases.

&uot;How do we answer critics who ask why, in tough economic times, are we doing this?&uot; Ward 4 Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West, said in a Finance Committee meeting before the Board of Aldermen’s Tuesday meeting.

One way is to show them the dollars that can come into an area as the result of tournaments, city officials said.

Ward 5 Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem David Massey said he has traveled to tournaments throughout the region in the past and seen such events fill hotels to the brim.

Last year’s mixed doubles tennis tournament had a $125,000 economic impact on the area, said Recreation Director Ralph Tedder.

To get buy-in from enough voters to pass a bond issue to fund it, the project must include facilities throughout the community &045; not the just the beanfield &045; and must have activities for every segment of the population, West said.

However, those attempting to sell voters on the plan must appeal to the love and concern those voters have for their children. Showing voters how the project will benefit their children is key, West said.

&uot;We’re going to have to find a way to show it to people,&uot; he said. &uot;A lot of people put children ahead of themselves and their livelihood.&uot;

Another way to sell the plan to voters would be to show them that it is a more equitable way for both the city and county, as well as the schools, to fund recreation, Massey said.

&uot;We provide almost $1 million a year (for recreation); the county spends $50,000,&uot; Massey said, adding that people from throughout the area come into Natchez to take advantage of its recreational programs.

Voters must also be told that now is a good time to pursue a recreation program, since the Park Service is willing to lease the &uot;beanfield&uot; property and the city, county and schools are working together, said City Attorney Walter Brown.

&uot;This is the first time, maybe ever, that there has been consensus among the three boards,&uot; Brown said.

A recreation commission 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 so that a proposed bond issue to pay for the project can be placed on the ballot in November.