City, county discuss community issues

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NATCHEZ — For a first date, everything seemed to go smoothly with few, if any, awkward moments — even with approximately 50 spectators hanging on every word.

At the end of Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting, which brought city and county elected leaders together for a rare question and answer session, both sides agreed a second, third and many more dates should be in their future.

“I like the idea of this meeting,” Natchez alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We are all here. We are all talking and hopefully these boards will come together quarterly. We should do this on a quarterly basis, at a minimum, to see what our needs are as a community.”

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Like any first date, the conversation switched from topic to topic, however regardless of the topic, one clear, overriding theme seemed to exist — the city and county is beginning to work together and needs to do more of it.

“The biggest single problem we have in this community is that we don’t communicate,” Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said.

He said the community’s efforts on regionalism, working together with nearby Louisiana communities and meetings such as Tuesday’s were helping to change that communication breakdown.

“I think it’s going to do nothing but improve going forward,” Middleton said.

Supervisor Mike Lazarus echoed Middleton’s sentiments.

“Working together, we can make a lot of things happen in our area,” he said. “We actually all get along a lot better than people think.”

Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields said negativity in the community should be stopped.

“I want us to come together. We’re letting the negativity completely take over,” he said. “There’s too many negative vibes, and that’s not Natchez.”

The four Natchez aldermen, three Adams County Supervisors and the Natchez mayor present at the meeting took turns answering questions ranging from regionalism and economic development to recreation and recycling.

All sides touted the success of the creation of Natchez Inc., the public-private partnership created in 2010 to serve as the community’s economic development engine.

“I have all the confidence in the world with the people on that board and with its executive director,” said county supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter.

Arceneaux-Mathis suggested that the city and county’s budget woes are likely to get worse before they get better as stimulus money and funding for state programs are likely to be slim in the months and years ahead.

“It’s going to be a tough situation for a number of years, and we’re just going to have to deal with it,” she said.

A way to deal with budget shortfalls will be to look for ways to save by eliminating duplication between city and county government, alderman James “Ricky” Gray said.

“The city and county duplicates a lot of services,” he said, adding public works, road departments and law enforcement were good places to start. “We need to look at consolidating services.”

Middleton and Alderman Dan Dillard both touted recent work the city did to privatize some public services, particularly grass cutting that saved the city more than $250,000, Dillard said.

Dillard said in some ways the area suffers from having a “low, small-town, self-esteem,” but said it shouldn’t.

“Our quality of life is as good any,” he said. “A lot of folks could live other places, but they choose to live here.”

Also, Dillard said citizens need to get involved in the community.

Quoting from a saying he recently heard, Dillard said, “I won’t let what I can’t do, keep me from doing what I can do.”

“If we can get enough of those ‘one persons’ working together, we can do anything,” he said.

All present said (or nodded) that they supported plans for a new city-county-school district supported recreation complex in county.

Figuring out funding, they said, will be the key, adding they’re waiting to hear the proposals to be presented March 15 at a public forum sponsored by the recreation commission before funding discussions will occur.

Felter made a suggestion that the city and county work to get their sanitation contracts in sync so they can have better leverage on both price and possibly the creation of a countywide recycling program.

Absent from the meeting were aldermen Bob Pollard and Mark Fortenbery and supervisors Henry Watts and Thomas “Boo” Campbell.

The Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the meeting at the request of both city and county leaders and they worked to find a time that worked for the majority of the elected officials, but knew some people would have conflicts.

At the end of the night, the matchmaker, chamber President Debbie Hudson said both city and county officials were happy.

“I think they were pleased to do this,” Hudson. “It’s just a shame that more (citizens) weren’t here so they could see and hear it all.”