County puts hold on recreation

Published 12:31 am Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NATCHEZ — Recreation talks among three local boards will likely be put off for more than a month at the recommendation of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, who say funding a potential industrial prospect may come first.

Recreation Chairman Tate Hobdy checked in with the supervisors at their meeting Monday. He and other members of the commission have already followed up with the Natchez Board of Aldermen and Natchez-Adams School District.

According to an inter-local agreement revised in 2009, all three boards were supposed to meet 10 days after the first meeting of all boards, which took place April 21.

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At that meeting, Hobdy and the commission presented their proposal for the plans and funding of a recreation complex.

The commission suggested the county pay an estimated $5.45 million of all construction costs, and that all three boards would share maintenance costs.

Hobdy said he recognized 10 days had already passed and was an unreasonably short timeframe to reconvene, and he asked the board when they wanted to proceed.

District 3 Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell said it might serve the county’s interest if funding for recreation was put on hold for a while.

“Maybe we need to take a step back and take a look at (recreation) three months from now,” Campbell said.

District 5 Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter said the board learned this week about an economic development project that will require the supervisors to pay money, perhaps leaving it strapped for cash to spend on recreation.

District 2 Supervisor Henry Watts elaborated on the opportunity, which the supervisors said they could not openly discuss.

“Within 60 days the county could take on additional $12 million in debt. It could happen real soon (and would) really, truly benefit Adams County,” Watts said.

Felter said he was not against recreation, but he wondered how the supervisors would pay for it.

“How we’re going to pay for it? We just did a bond to do blacktop (of county roads),” Felter said.

Watts said the board and commission should consider building phase one on a smaller scale.

“Phase one is (projected) at $5.4 million. Why can’t it be a $1 million, or $2 million?” Watts said.

Felter suggested the board put the issue to “binding” vote this August rather than a “non-binding” vote, to determine if residents want to pay for recreation.

In 2009, 78.54 percent of residents voted in favor of a non-binding referendum to support the creation of a recreation complex at a cost not to exceed $5.45 million.

“Everybody’s taxes are going to be raised if they want to pay,” Felter said.

District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus said he thought the county could find ways to pay for construction of a recreation complex without raising taxes, such as with grants or debt the county will soon retire.

Lazarus said he was not sure if the supervisors even had enough time go through the justice department to get another vote on the ballot about recreation.

County resident John Seyfarth said the issue, including specific costs and funding plans, should perhaps be put to a vote again.

Grennell said the purpose of the vote in 2009 was to send a message, not to make a decision.

“Basically the non-binding referendum gave a message that people of Adams County want to move forward (with recreation),” Grennell said.

“At that point it’s our prerogative whether we want to move forward. We’re not obligated, but it’s a message to all boards.”

Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne suggested allowing recently hired County Administrator Joe Murray to analyze the cost of recreation and the county’s budget before the three boards meet again.

O’Beirne said Murray starts Monday, so the three boards should meet a month after that to allow Murray to review the financial situation.

Watts asked the commission to supply Murray and the supervisors with answers to how much revenue the complex is projected to make, what the actual cost of maintenance will be and what kind of impact it can make on sales taxes.

Hobdy said he would supply the information and is planning to give similar information to the school board’s financial advisor, at the school board’s request. He said he would try to set up a meeting with all boards next month.

In other new from Monday’s meeting:

– O’Beirne said the county does not have $500,000 in revenue that it budgeted for this year because only half of the revenue from car tags was received compared to what was expected.

O’Beirne said the supervisors may want to use the $234,000 in federal reimbursement from Hurricane Gustav to fill that budget hole.

Campbell and Felter suggested the Hurricane Gustav money be used to blacktop streets in the original blacktop plan that were left out of the project when the projects $2.4 million budget was depleted.

– Thelma White, who started the Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery Association appeared at the meeting to ask the county if it can take over permanent maintenance of the historic cemetery.

White said many people give time or donations “whenever they feel like it,” but she said a permanent solution for the maintenance needs to be resolved.

White said black people are buried in the cemetery of questionable private ownership because they were once not allowed to be buried at the city cemetery.

Those taxpaying citizens should be honored by having the cemetery maintained, White said, and the worthy women group cannot handle the workload.

County Attorney Bobby Cox said the county could not use inmates to maintain the cemetery because it is within city limits.

– The following county roads are closed due to flooding: Quitman, Annas Bottom, Bourke and Carthage Point roads, as well as the Bellwood property off of River Terminal Road.

– Representatives from a private company called Associate Emergency Responses, who handles disaster relief and Federal Emergency Management Agency applications, spoke to the board Monday about helping the county recoup all it is owed as a result of flooding.