County should call city’s bluff on recreation

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 21, 2007

If you are an elected leader, what is the best way to raise money?

This is not a trick question.

You get someone else to do it for you. Right?

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Think about it. If you have a project that costs millions of dollars and yet you don’t have a bank account overflowing with money, what do you do?

Well, the first thing you don’t do is go to your tax-paying constituents and say, “We are going to raise your taxes.”

Talk about political suicide. In a day when many voters already think they are over-taxed, suggesting a tax raise would be equal to announcing that you are not running for re-election.

Of course, if you could find someone else to pay for it, then you would not only be able to take credit for the project but you wouldn’t be taking phone calls all day long from angry citizens.

From my vantage point, that is exactly what is happening with the city-county recreation debate.

The city primaries are only 222 days away, and what better way to start campaigning than to announce a multi-million dollar spectacular project that will benefit every child in the county.

And the best thing about this stupendous plan is that city taxpayers are not going to have to pay one dime more in taxes.

No, not in the City of Natchez.

Part of the money will come from the Lane Company — which hasn’t committed to bringing a casino to Natchez.

Another part will come from state, federal and private sources — which haven’t been identified yet.

And get this, part of the money will come from the county. If you go by Mayor Phillip West’s first proposal the county would “commit to raising $4 million.” If you talk to other aldermen that number could be as high as $7.5 million.

Who gave city officials the authorization to tell the county how to spend its money?

Of course city leaders will say that is only a suggestion; they are not telling the county what to do.

But during Wednesday night’s talks between city and county leaders, it sounded as if county leaders were being pressed to at least commit to a city-county joint recreation plan — without specifics.

Not a problem, right?

How can you commit to a project where the only thing you know specifically is that the city wants millions of dollars you don’t have.

Will it come from bond money, from raising taxes or from some other source?

During the meeting supervisors Henry Watts and Sammy Cauthen both expressed concerns about where the county would get the money to fill the city’s request.

Did the city consult with supervisors to determine how much the county could spend on such a proposal?

Apparently not.

Listening to Wednesday’s meeting, one thing became clear to me. The county wants specifics and the city doesn’t have them.

What will the money buy? City leaders don’t know. What kind of recreational facilities will be included? City leaders don’t know. Where will the complex be? City leaders don’t know.

All they do know is that they need the county to commit to the project and to commit to funding the project.

The consultant will handle the rest, they say.

It puts county leaders in a difficult position and it has city leaders sitting pretty.

If the county commits to the project they have to make difficult choices. Unlike the city, they don’t have a Lane Company or other big revenue source. Will they have to raise taxes, issue bonds? Both approaches may be hard to stomach.

As far as the city is concerned, if supervisors agree to the project, great. If supervisors decide not to commit to the project, they have someone to blame for project’s failure.

Of course, the city said they could go it alone, if supervisors ultimately decided not to commit to the project.

If I were the supervisors, that might be one proposal I would accept.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.