City, county agree piggy bank empty

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; A two and a half hour joint meeting yielded at least one agreement Monday: neither Natchez nor Adams County has much money this upcoming budget year.

Natchez aldermen invited Adams County supervisors to a joint meeting to discuss issues such as fire protection and road maintenance funding.

They also spent about an hour in executive session discussing the Economic Development Authority.

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City leaders asked the county why the supervisors’ contribution to road maintenance in the city has decreased so much in recent years &045;&045; from 2.14 mills two years ago to 1.24 mills last year.

The answer was simple: funding cuts.

&uot;Our budget for road and maintenance last year was much lower than ever before,&uot; County Administrator Charlie Brown said.

The county is looking at more cuts this year, especially since tax revenue from International Paper is gone.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell pointed out the county has worked on city roads &045;&045; such as a current Lewis Drive project &045;&045; without any city funds.

City Attorney Walter Brown said he hopes in the future the two governments can work together.

&uot;What I’m driving at is we ought to be developing more joint projects,&uot; he said. &uot;Hopefully we’d have a good vision for the future where we’d coordinate our road projects.&uot;

Natchez Mayor Phillip West said the city had hoped to ask the county for another mill in tax revenue to help cover city road costs.

&uot;I guess I know what your answer is,&uot; he said.

The road discussion led to what West called the &uot;age-old argument&uot; about fire protection. The city and county have a long-standing interlocal agreement by which the city’s fire department provides fire protection for county residents, who also are served by five volunteer fire departments.

It is a discussion city and county leaders have had many times.

Originally, in the early 1990s, the two boards agreed that the county would help fund new employees for the fire department, who in turn would help serve residents in the county. That funding formula, according to Attorney Brown, was based on the number of firefighters multiplied by a cost per firefighter.

But that cost has gone up, Brown said, especially considering higher insurance costs.

This year, Alderman David Massey said the Natchez Fire Department responded to calls outside city limits for 33 percent of its calls &045;&045; which, if that formula were applied to what the county paid last year, means the county would owe an additional $226,000. The county already paid about $443,000.

&uot;We can’t continue to have this shortfall,&uot; said Massey, who said the county didn’t necessarily have to pay, but the city didn’t know if it could continue to provide protection outside Natchez limits.

&uot;I understand your position,&uot; Supervisor Thomas &uot;Boo&uot; Campbell said. &uot;Ours is the same. The money just isn’t there.&uot;

Grennell said the county plans to offer the same amount for fire protection this year.

Once the city was finished asking for money, Adams County Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said the city owes supervisors for part of its portion of this year’s Juvenile Justice Center operations. That amount is about $25,000, and the city will owe $50,000 for operations for the coming year.

The boards agreed they will discuss the funding issues further as they continue the budget process.

Natchez will likely hold its first budget hearings next week, and the county’s process is ongoing.

Despite the lack of agreement, Alderman Jake Middleton encouraged the two boards to work together.

&uot;The bottom line is, what are we as two boards going to do to survive?&uot; he said. &uot;Let’s put our heads together and figure out how we’re going to run the city and county. We need to work together and move forward.&uot;