Newspaper misrepresented the board

Published 11:39 pm Thursday, September 13, 2007

I usually do not respond to what is written in The Natchez Democrat, because over my years as President of Mississippi Association of Educators, I was trained to realize that all newspapers have more ink and paper than the issues or people they discuss and publicize.

However, because of my personal core values which were developed in me by my parents and because it is unfair to the constituents I represent to allow blatant misrepresentation on any issue, I am responding.

In a recent editorial, The Democrat stated that I said in a budget hearing, “hold up, wait a minute” in reference to raises proposed by various department heads. They went on to list a number of infractions whereby accusing this board and mayor of squandering tax gains from Katrina and other woes.

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Let me address specifically what I said. First, and foremost, this was a hearing where presentations were made by department heads concerning their budget request. The city has not adopted a budget but is working on one. During the hearings, one of my colleagues on several occasions said to department heads that he was sure that many of their requests would be honored when the budget revision occurred in May because of anticipated revenue increases from anticipated gaming vessels scheduled to open and operate in Natchez during the Spring of 2008. I said “Hold up, wait a minute” — this board has not set priorities for the use of that money. We don’t know what we will get, or even if there will be an increase until these proposed economic developments occur and then the board should look at the increase in revenue and make a unified decision on how and where anticipated increases will be used. Now this was in response to requests from departments which ran from needed new equipment to an investment to GIS by the city to additional needs of recreation besides salary requests.

There were also proposed salary increases by department heads through zeroing out specific lines items in their budges (i.e. equipment) and using those line items to provide raises for their employees without showing an increase in the specific department’s budget. The Mississippi Legislature has taught me that municipalities, not state or national governments, should use one time revenues for reoccurring debt. Salaries are reoccurring. If needs in the future arise for equipment or other omissions in line items of submitted budgets (in leiu of raises) then that would indeed place that department over budget and the city would have to find revenues, raise taxes or lay personnel.

We are trying to incorporate sound fiscal management with the current revenues we now have in our possession. Some cities — notably Jackson — are in financial crisis. We are trying not to get into that situation. Budgets should be set with sound judgment not pressure from, specifically, newspapers. If we find ourselves with problems, the media will not be called upon to solve them. And in most instances will just add to the stress of working through the process.

Now let me address raises. Last but not least, we work for the citizens of Natchez just as hard as the board of supervisors work for the citizens of Adams County. However, in most instances, we provide all of the services for the citizens of the City of Natchez without any assistance from the board of supervisors who — again in most instances — place the needs of the citizens outside the city limits first. However, with the exception of two aldermen, all of us have more years of experience on the board of aldermen than all but one supervisor. Let us then compare local salaries where the board of supervisors makes $40,000 to $42,000.

In comparison with the board of aldermen and have car/mileage allowances. I am not against their budgets, I am however placing what this board does in the proper perspective. If there are needs for cuts, as in the last administration, this board would be the first to accept cuts as we are elected.

Joyce Arceneaux-Mathtis is Ward 1 alderwoman for Natchez.