What can we do for our community?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 1, 2010

A reader asked me a simple question last week, though it was perhaps better described as a desperate plea.

“What can we do about our community?” she said.

A little more probing yielded a serious, heart-felt frustration that many residents seem to be feeling.

It’s the belief that our community is sometimes going in different directions or at times haphazardly rolling along on a journey without a clearly communicated direction or concerted effort.

It’s as if our collective goal is to “get by.”

The latest gripe on the streets is the city’s continuing habit of borrowing money at the end of a fiscal year to make it through the next year.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal.

Given the relatively small size of the shortfall, it’s easily fixed. All it takes is for the board of aldermen to get serious about spending and cut their expenses — 5 percent below the anticipated revenue should work well to start.

Monitoring their plan monthly and making expense adjustments quarterly would quickly prevent the kind of last-minute trips to the bank to borrow “make do” money.

Any surplus revenue could be put into a rainy day fund — something one alderman recently lamented the city doesn’t have. No one just has a rainy day fund; they must be created through disciplined spending practices and short-term sacrifices.

Fortunately, though, the city’s tax anticipation loans are not a sign of a crippled city, but rather one that lacks some direction and, perhaps, one that’s stuck in old ways of thinking.

City leaders know what needs to be done, but no one wants to have his name associated with a layoff or termination.

No one said leadership would be easy, or fun.

And the aldermen each earn $20,700 for serving in their roles. An excellent show of fiscal responsibility would be for all the aldermen to voluntarily suspend their pay until city finances improve and a rainy day fund equal to one month’s payroll is established.

If, as the latest tax anticipation loan indicates, the city needs approximately $650,000 to make it through the lean tax times, next year’s deficit could be cut almost 20 percent right off the bat, simply by eliminating their own pay for one year.

Imagine the tone aldermen would set by making such a move. Think about how much more efficient city workers might become if they knew that the aldermen were intent on getting finances righted.

But it’s unlikely they will do that. By all indications, the plan is to keep plugging along, doing pretty much the same things we’ve always done.

That, perhaps, more than anything, is what frustrates citizens like the nice reader I spoke with last week.

She wants to help. She wants to encourage and be positive about the city’s direction and leadership, but she admitted — with a hint of shame in her voice — that it’s frustrating sometimes to be positive when you feel like you’re one person, fighting against the current of the status quo.

So what’s the answer to her question, “What can we do about our community?”

Get involved, ask questions and never give up on trying to make it better. Natchez is too important and its citizens are too smart to let a few bad decisions at the voting booth hold back progress.

We should all demand excellence. Do that and Natchez will excel for years to come.

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