Pros and cons: Residents speak out about consolidation

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Renewed talk about the possibility of consolidating the governments of Natchez and Adams County has residents discussing the positives &045; and negatives &045; of such a move.

Proponents interviewed this week said consolidation could help eliminate duplication of services and, at least in the long run, save taxpayers’ money in the process. They also said having a unified government could be an aid to recruiting industry.

Opponents, however, said they doubt city services would be extended to outlying areas of the county any time soon. And they pointed out that many county residents don’t want to be placed under city regulations such as zoning.

Email newsletter signup

Natchez resident Forest Persons, along with other proponents, noted that consolidation could be done more easily in this area than in others because Natchez is Adams County’s only municipality. He also pointed out that some services, such as tax collection, have already been consolidated.

&uot;You’re bound to lower administrative costs by combining jobs, and things like street maintenance and garbage collection would probably be less expensive and more easily handled,&uot; Persons said. He added that taxes could probably be lowered under such a scenario.

&uot;The biggest advantage would be to cut costs by not duplicating services,&uot; said Scott Kimbrell Sr., who served on a Chamber of Commerce committee that researched consolidation in the late 1980s. &uot;Besides, I’m not sure we need five supervisors and six aldermen.&uot;

Bernie Pyron, who lives outside the city, said he likes the idea of spending less on salaries and benefits by reducing the number of government employees.

He also noted that reducing the number of board members that oversee Natchez-Adams would mean spending less on their salaries.

&uot;There’s a lot of duplicated expenses,&uot; Pyron said. Consolidation, he said, &uot;is something that should have happened a long time ago.&uot;

Dr. Byron Garrity agrees the issue is about money &045; a city with that has spent too much money attempting to get county residents to bail it out. &uot;And county residents,&uot; he said, &uot;don’t want to bail the city out.&uot;

&uot;I’m afraid the emphasis on consolidation has nothing to do with services but is an attempt to get county residents to pay for an overextended city budget,&uot; Garrity said. &uot;Annexation has such a negative connotation that consolidation is the next alternative.&uot;

Headlines show the City of Natchez is strapped for cash, said Gene Simonton. &uot;City officials have overspent, and now they want consolidation for the exact same reasons they wanted annexation,&uot; he said.

There are plenty of proofs a city must meet to show the necessity of annexing an area, but Garrity said he is not sure a city would have to meet those same proofs when proposing consolidation.

For one thing, Garrity seriously doubts the city could guarantee county residents the same level of services that city residents enjoy. Many residents outside the city limits are against consolidation, he said.

&uot;We don’t feel like, when we look at a map of the county, that police could get adequate fire and police protection in Anna’s Bottom, for example, with the same speed and dedication as those on Main Street,&uot; Garrity said.

&uot;And it would only be fair for people (throughout the county) to expect the same speed and dedication in responding to their personal property,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s another viable and serious concern.&uot;

Both Garrity and Simonton balk at the idea of government telling residents throughout the county what they can do with their property.

&uot;That’s the reason most people move to the country &045; to get away from the ordinances,&uot; Simonton said.

&uot;I don’t want someone telling me what color to paint my house. That’s the reason I sold everything I had in Natchez. And I predict that if we do consolidate, you’ll see more for sale signs, and then there’ll be less people to pay taxes.&uot;

Garrity said he is also concerned about government telling infringing on people’s livelihoods, from people who lease hunting rights on their land to those who operate beauty shops from their homes.

Pyron, however, said zoning can vary greatly from area of the county to the next to allow for such enterprises and for other property uses. He noted even different subdivisions in unincorporated Adams County have restrictive covenants that vary greatly.

Savings to taxpayers would not happen overnight, said Fred Middleton, but he believes consolidation could make it easier to recruit industry.

That is because economic development officials and the prospects themselves would only have one board, not two, to consult regarding possible tax and other incentives.

&uot;Besides,&uot; Middleton said, &uot;the most important thing is to have one voice.&uot;