City’s debt addiction is unbelievable

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2010

Last week’s Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting could be described in a myriad of ways. Laughable. Ridiculous. Unbelievable.

Lots of adjectives came to mind after hearing about the city’s latest plan to borrow money again to make payroll and “get by” until next year’s tax collections come.

But none of the usual descriptions seem to fit anymore. They just don’t do it justice.

We’re beyond the point of simply expressing disbelief and astonishment.

We’re beyond the point at which some small amount of public ridicule may help.

The only word that accurately describes Natchez’s payday loan addiction is sad.

In case you missed it last week the city voted to seek a $650,000 tax anticipation loan to help it cover its expenses for the remainder of the year.

Tax anticipation loans are the municipal equivalent of a payday loan — give me money now, and I’ll pay it back with interest on payday.

Almost all cities and counties — even most businesses — have some form of debt. However the debt is generally taken on for a specific reason — to pay for a building or other capital expense.

But when a municipality or business consistently needs to borrow from tomorrow’s earnings to pay for today’s bills, it’s a sign of trouble.

In Natchez’s case, the city has become a city addicted to debt. And, it appears there is no end in sight.

The only good thing about last week’s vote — if there is a good thing in it — is that the mayor and board appear to at least all be on the same page.

The vote on the $650,000 loan was unanimous.

Most troubling, however, was the exaggerated pats on the back that aldermen and the mayor gave one another.

Effectively, they focused on how great it was that they didn’t have to borrow as much as last year, rather than apologizing to taxpayers for having to borrow money at all.

A Realtor friend recently relayed a story of a conversation with a builder.

The Realtor asked, “Why do all of the scored concrete floors seem to have cracks in them?”

“The cracks just add character to the floor,” the builder replied, dodging the question and turning what most people think of as a flaw into a feature.

That’s what the city did last week, glad-handing one another about their continuing to operate above their means.

But simply complaining doesn’t seem to help.

What needs to happen is for citizens to start demanding the city and county work together to eliminate waste of our tax dollars.

Although outright consolidation is ultimately the best answer for protecting our citizens’ best interests, that step may be too big to take at once.

A better solution might be to look for small ways the city and county can work together.

The city and county already have an agreement for the Natchez Fire Department to cover county fire calls.

Perhaps the city should contract with the county to have the Adams County Sheriff’s Office cover all law enforcement duties in the city.

Eventually, both law enforcement agencies are going to need new office and jail facilities. Wouldn’t it make more sense to build one larger one rather than two smaller ones?

The same could be said for the city public works department and the county road crews. Joining forces would eliminate duplication of equipment purchases.

Thankfully, the city and county work together when emergencies such as hurricanes occur, but we need to realize doing so all the time would be in our best interest and it would save taxpayer money.

But until citizens demand more from their government, we’ll continue with the loans, the promises to get things righted and the unmerited pats on the back.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.