Meeting gives public chance to address city officials

Published 12:01 am Thursday, January 17, 2008

NATCHEZ — Several topics were as hot as the breakfast served at the meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

The meeting’s purpose was to have city-elected officials address the publics’ questions or concerns about the city.

In attendance were Mayor Phillip West and Aldermen David Massey, Bob Pollard and Jake Middleton.

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Each elected official was allowed an opening statement in which they all said what they would like to see the city accomplish in 2008.

West began by stating his No. 1 priority in 2008, which is to have concrete plans for both indoor and outdoor recreational facilities for the city.

Massey said he would like to see an overlay of city streets.

Middleton’s hope for the future is city and county consolidation, especially in regards to a recreation facility, he said.

One other thing Middleton said he would like to see accomplished is finding a way to increase pay for policemen and firemen. He said the solution to that lies in promoting tourism to gain additional revenue.

“We need to sell Natchez,” he said. “We can fix streets, we can do the things we want, but until we get the money, it’s going to be hard.”

Pollard was in agreement with Middleton when he said he would also like to see pay raises for policemen and firemen.

He said he also is concerned with the problem of downtown parking.

After each two-minute opening statement, pre-collected written questions from the public were read aloud and then each city official had a chance for a two-minute response.

The first question began with a statement: that the local streets are paramount to the local economy. The inquirer wanted to know what was being done to fix the streets.

Mayor West began the responses. He said requests have been made to lobbyists to authorize allocation of funds to fix major local streets that are in dire need of repair.

As for neighborhood streets, West said, it may take more time and resources.

“All of us know it’s going to take increases in revenues for us to address this kind of issue,” West said.

West concluded when he said the city is aware of the need for street improvement.

Middleton echoed West’s sentiment that major local streets needed repair.

He said that the city could receive approximately $1 million annually per future gaming vessel.

Pollard’s response dealt with infrastructure, not in reference to streets.

He said Broadway is going underground with utilities, as are the Convention Center Hotel and Cock of the Walk. From Canal through Broadway, Pollard said, will have no above-ground utilities.

The second question asked for clarification on the reported $15 million to be spent on local recreation facilities.

West said that proposal came from him and that’s the expected amount to be spend to create a good outdoor and indoor facility in a conducive area for the community.

“I think it’s going to move forward once we come up with the right package and this community will support it,” West said.

He said he believes the county should participate in the building of a recreational facility.

Massey immediately picked up on West’s statement.

“Recreation with Natchez shouldn’t stand alone with the city,” Massey said.

When a county citizen comes to use a recreational facility, they pay no taxes, Massey said.

“Every tax-paying citizen in Adams County will pay the same amount of recreation taxes,” Massey said.

Middleton also showed interest in creating a new recreational facility.

“We’re still playing baseball in fields I played on in 1958,” Middleton said.

One point he stressed, though, was that it will take a lot of money not only to build a facility, but also to maintain it.

He said 10 to 15 percent of the money spent on the project can be spent on the facilities maintenance.

Pollard said the city needs to establish what they want to do with the facility and then get moving.

“Stop the talk and say this is what we’re going to do, start the plan, make it happen,” Pollard said.

Another issue the city currently faces that came up was crime.

West said that crime is low in Natchez, but one crime is too many.

“We need more law enforcement in our police department,” he said. “There should be more pay for them. I think we need more cops on the street and need more cops on the street that are familiar with the areas they are walking.”

Massey urged the crowd to not think that Police Chief Mike Mullins isn’t focused on stopping crime.

“Don’t think nothing is being done and that arrests aren’t being made,” Massey said.

But still, he said he is concerned.

“It does concern me that in a tourism town we are having these things,” Massey said. “It’s bad publicity for the town.”

Middleton said he believes the police department is short about five police officers right now.

He said neighbors should get to know each other and activate or reactivate neighborhood watch programs.

“We have to communicate with each other,” Middleton said.

Pollard said he has spoken with Mullins on this issue and passed along the same advice Mullins gave him.

“Be alert, be aware of your surroundings,” Pollard said. “Donate to Crime Stoppers.”

Other issues addressed by the city officials were consolidation, downtown parking, the possibility of an industrial park in Natchez and promotion of the city besides tourism.

The meeting ended with closing remards.

“I see us moving in the right direction,” West said. “We’re becoming more and more positive (as a community.) We need to have a good attitude. The most important aspect is the people in our community.”