County, city consolidation possibilities discussed

Published 12:55 am Sunday, December 6, 2009

NATCHEZ — Supervisor Mike Lazarus says now is the time to consolidate Natchez and Adams County.

The District 1 supervisor shared his ideas with the Adams County Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting, but hopes to keep the dialogue going and include the city leaders soon.

And discussion — plus numbers and facts — is something other supervisors said they will need to hear before jumping on the consolidation bandwagon.

Email newsletter signup

Lazarus’ plan would mean the governmental bodies of Natchez and Adams County would merge into one government and city and county departments would merge into one.

“Now is the time to (consolidate) because there is a big movement across the state,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus said he has checked with state officials to see if consolidation would be a realistic goal for the county, and the response he received from state Rep. Sam Mims was a favorable one.

“I was in a meeting where there was another legislator from another part of the state who had some ideas for city and county consolidation,” Mims said. “I think this particular senator will introduce legislation that will look into the idea.”

Mims said if Adams County and Natchez wanted to consolidate, new legislation would have to be written. The consolidation legislation would either be a general bill or a local and private bill.

A local and private bill would only affect Natchez and Adams County, whereas the general bill would be farther reaching, affecting other parts of the state.

“But in both cases, you would want to have a resolution from the county and city supporting the idea,” Mims said.

The Mississippi legislative session starts Jan. 5. The deadline to get legislation passed for general bills is Jan. 18. March 19 is the cutoff for local and private bills.

Lazarus said he hopes to have something to present to the legislature during its upcoming session.

However, Supervisor Darryl Grennell said he thinks more definition and planning is needed before the county and city can be serious about consolidation.

“(Mike) needs to define what consolidation is,” Grennell said. “There needs to be a study on the benefits. Is it going to save money, and if so, where?,” Grennell asked.

If consolidated, Natchez and Adams County would have to decide what type of governing body would represent the people and how they would be elected.

“The biggest challenges, once this thing is figured out, is there will have to be a constitutional provision or amendment for this form of government,” Grennell said. “That requires two-thirds of the legislative vote to amend or modify the state constitution.”

Lazarus believes Adams County and Natchez will not be alone in their efforts to merge their governments.

“It’s a big push in Vicksburg and Meridian where they are wanting to consolidate. If you get that many counties and towns going after it at the same time, you have a better chance to get it done,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus told fellow supervisors he will be looking at reports and numbers detailing what the county and city would save in revenue if both entities would consolidate in certain areas of government.

But until he had figures and facts in hand, Lazarus said he wants local government officials to think seriously about the option.

“My goal in this is to save the people of Adams County money,” Lazarus said.

Board President Henry Watts said he would be willing to see the areas Lazarus finds to consolidate and save money.

“(Consolidation) is a noble idea, and the concept is to make government run more efficiently and less costly,” Watts said. “I support all sufficient government, and I support running government by saving money anyway we can.”

However, Watts said a number of projects the county is involved in raise some concerns for him.

“The concerns that I have right now is, one, we have recreation to deal with that has been passed on the referendum, and we’re going to have to deal with the restructuring of the EDA, one way or the other,” Watts said.

“More than anything else, I am concerned that we, the supervisors, are not doing a good job running county government as it is.”

Watts said with the county spending $2 million more than last year’s budget, the thought of consolidating the city and county to form one budget to operate seems like a bad idea.

Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter said he was skeptical about consolidation efforts.

“I don’t think that is a good idea,” Felter said.

“The only thing left (to consolidate) is the sheriff’s office and the police department, and you’re going to have a problem there because of civil service,” Felter said.

Felter said he saw bigger changes on the horizon if Lazarus’ efforts succeeded.

“(Consolidation) would lead to annexation — where the city moves its boundaries into the county,” Felter said.

“The people in the county would start paying for services they’re not getting, and wouldn’t get for years.”

Felter said he didn’t see consolidation helping out the citizens of Adams County financially.

“The county is so large that it wouldn’t save money. If it would, prove it to me,” Felter said.

Grennell said he doesn’t see himself getting behind a consolidation plan anytime soon without seeing some numbers and facts.

“I’m not saying it’s not achievable, but it’s going to take a lot of work and take a lot of time,” Grennell said. “I don’t see it being done in two years. It’s going to take a while.”

Lazarus said he will be working to prove consolidation is a financially sound decision for the county and city after he gathers more information.

Lazarus said while he’s unsure of the amount of money that could be saved by consolidating county and city governments, he feels sure it would save money.

“The tax collector and tax assessor offices have been consolidated, and that’s worked wonders,” Lazarus said.

One area Lazarus said money could be saved is in labor cost through having one job to do instead of two.

“I’m not talking about laying people off. I’m talking about once people retire, we don’t rehire. We reduce the work force and save the county some money,” Lazarus said.

But before consolidation is presented as a viable solution to local government, Lazarus said a plan has to be made that will look out for the best interests of Adams County residents.

After the plan is formulated and if board of aldermen and board of supervisors stand behind the idea of consolidating their governments, Lazarus said the state would be notified.

After the state approves the action of the city and county boards, Lazarus said the next step would be put the decision in the hands of county residents.

“The people will actually get to vote on this just like they did on recreation, but this one will be a binding referendum,” Lazarus said.

“If I don’t come up with a plan that saves the majority of people in Adams County money, (a referendum) is not going to pass.”

But before the people of Adams County can vote, the board of aldermen and board of supervisors have to get behind the idea, and Grennell said it is going to take a lot of time and numbers to elicit the support of local leaders.

“We just need to look at the entire proposed plan. When I’m supplied with the data, numbers of savings and what will be the form of government, that’s when I’ll get on board. Until then, we’ve got to see a lot.”