No need to beat city up over overlay

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 11, 2009

Maybe I’m just dense. Lots of readers may quickly agree after years of my opinions and countless typos and grammatical goofs.

But all of that aside, I don’t understand the fluff over the City of Natchez’s goof-up by paving roads without the money in the bank.

The issue is a little embarrassing for the city, but it’s a speed bump, not a mountain.

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If you haven’t heard, last fall the city began a $1.3 million road-resurfacing project that the city believed was being paid for by state funds.

Just as the work was being completed, city leaders discovered that the funds were not “in the mail” as they previously believed.

The previous city administration lobbied for and allegedly secured the funds, which was a great triumph at the time. The announcement came just one week after then Mayor Phillip West lost his re-election bid in the primary to current Mayor Jake Middleton.

Somewhere in the transition of administrations, a mistake was made. Someone didn’t dot the correct “i” or cross the correct “t.”

The city apparently has now secured at least half of the $1.3 million through the Mississippi Development Authority.

The other half remains to be found. It’s likely the city will need to borrow the funds to repay the contractor in the interim.

While some people find it easy to beat up the city about this, I’d prefer instead to be more constructive.

This mistake seems to be an honest one, but one that points out flaws in the system.

By that I mean, this isn’t a case of breaking state and local laws to tear down the pecan factory or an attempt to circumvent laws by trying to force the police chief hire an ex-police officer who by law could not be legally hired.

No, this was not even in the same ballpark. This was an honest mistake, no harm intended, no personal gain seemingly involved.

The fact is the resurfaced roads were in horrible shape and the work was badly needed.

Hopefully, aldermen will adopt a new ordinance which prevents the city from entering into such a contract in the future until the funds are literally in hand.

That’s just a good business practice.

City leaders should not let the problem linger.

The city needs to quickly take out the loan, pay off the contractor and then pull out its budget scalpel in case the state doesn’t come through with the remaining funds.

A $650,000 loan over four years at a modest interest rate equates to approximately $175,000 in principal and interest due each year.

Natchez’s budget is approximately $30 million a year so the $175,000 payment is literally half of a percent of the total expenses.

Cutting out unnecessary expenses should easily be able to cover the loan.

Alderman Bob Pollard’s plan to cut the community development department would save more than one-third of that alone.

Trim a few extra city vehicles used for personal use and manage city crews more tightly and the note can be covered with no new taxes.

This isn’t the end of the world. It’s a minor budget glitch, one that businesses deal with constantly. Think about that as you enjoy the smooth ride on the new pavement.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or