City: We cannot fund recreation alone

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 16, 2008

NATCHEZ — The bottom line is the recreation budget is extremely tight and no expansions or improvements can be made without county help.

This is what Mayor Jake Middleton vehemently expressed at the public budget hearing Monday night in response to an uproar at potential large cuts to be made in the recreation budget.

When Middleton first got in office, he asked department heads to trim the fat in their budgets by 5 percent.

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However, Alderman Dan Dillard, who is the recreation department’s alderman, said that is near impossible.

“It’s difficult because they’re already stretched out beyond their capabilities,” Dillard said.

And Middleton said much of the same, calling Recreation Director Ralph Tedder a magician in the way he so thinly spreads a dollar.

One possible solution in cutting back on the budget was to not renew tennis pro Henry Harris’ contract.

This left many avid tennis players in the area upset, concerned and ready to stick up for Harris and the entire tennis program at the meeting.

Tennis player Jeanie Peabody said she wants recreation expanded, not reduced, and that the mayor ran on a platform of recreation.

“This is not the way you ran for mayor,” Peabody said referencing recreation cuts.

Middleton said he has no plans to cut Harris from the budget and expounded on the recreation situation.

“I’m very passionate about recreation,” he said.

But the city is drowning trying to keep recreation afloat.

“The city can’t do it by itself,” Middleton said. “I’m tired of taking the heat for the recreation program in the county and city.”

He said the city pays $1.1 million into recreation and the county pays none.

The county pays $50,000 for its own few parks, but makes no contribution to the city, Middleton said.

“You need to hold them accountable,” he said. “Ask them when they’re going to give you some money for recreation.”

Middleton made a request to the county for a 2-mil tax increase to funnel into recreation, hence giving the city approximately an additional $368,000.

He was denied his request Monday at the board of supervisors meeting.

Middleton bemoaned the tax decrease the county passed with its new budget, which he claimed only returns $8 to each city resident.

“We could have taken that (1-mil decrease) and resurfaced the tennis courts,” Middleton said.

And with funds coming to the country through the sale of Natchez Regional Medical Center, Rentech future plant and Corrections Corporation of America he said the county can afford it.

With extra money and with the county’s help, new recreation facilities could be constructed.

“It’s economic development,” Middleton said.

The solution, for now, is to form a city and county recreation committee to hammer out a partnership and discuss funds.