Tourism pay raises questioned

Published 1:10 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez may reconsider its current freeze on employee raises at the request of tourism department officials.

The raise-freeze was discussed earlier this fall as a part of the budgeting process and as a result of limited city funds.

But at a finance meeting before Tuesday’s regular board meeting the Natchez Board of Aldermen discussed raises for five employees of the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

Email newsletter signup

The raises were apparently included in the original budget the Natchez Convention and Promotion Commission approved and presented in September during the aldermen’s budget hearings for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

All raises, including the visitor center raises, were then taken out of the budget that was subsequently adopted by the board.

Mayor Jake Middleton said the commission is now requesting the budget be adjusted to allow the raises.

A contract the commission has with the city reportedly gives the commission the authority to authorize its own raises without aldermen approval.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she was not aware of the raises and requested the board have Natchez City Attorney Everett Sanders review the contract.

Charles Burns, accountant for the visitor center, said the center’s budget has a surplus of approximately $35,000 because the raises were included in the proposed budget approved by the NCPC board. He said the raises will total approximately $31,000.

Burns said the raises will not cost the city any additional funds, and the amount the center pays the city each month will be increased to reflect the raises.

The board decided at the finance meeting to have Sanders review the contract to verify that it gives the commission authority to approve raises.

Middleton said after the meeting the contract between the city and the commission was drafted during his first term as an alderman, and he is unsure why the authority for raises was given to the tourism commission.

“The money is there for the raises,” he said. “I don’t think the (commission) would come to us if it wasn’t.”

In other news from the meeting:

4 The board adopted a plan to comply with a section of the Americans with Disability Act that requires each city have a plan of action to install handicapped ramps on city streets.

Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said the act does not require the city install a certain number of ramps per year, but it only requires the city have a plan.

Gardner said the city has 289 areas where ramps need to be installed. He said the city installs several ramps each year as roadwork is done, because it is required when projects are completed with federal funding.

Gardner said the city has pledged to put in one additional ramp each year.

4 Gardner reported to the board that he and Middleton met with Entergy because several of the aldermen had voiced concerns they had received from residents about trees blocking street lights and hanging over power lines.

Gardner said Entergy has a contract with a tree trimming company and agreed to trim trees around the city. He said the city will mediate the process between residents and Entergy.

Gardner also said Entergy will notify residents with door hangers and automated phone calls when trees around their houses will be trimmed.

4 The board awarded the Natchez roof replacements project contract to E. Cornell Malone Corporation of Jackson.

The project includes replacing the roofs of Natchez Fire Department Station No. 2, the Natchez Police Department, the Senior Citizens Center on Washington Street and the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture building on Main Street.

4 Alderman James “Rickey” Gray read a letter from Robert Lewis Middle School seventh-grade student Kirdis Clark asking the board to contribute to fundraising efforts for a trip to the National Young Leaders State Conference in Birmingham, Ala.

Clark needs $1,500 to travel to the conference. Anyone wishing to donate can contact Harvey and Katrenia McNeal at 601-442-1193 or send donations to 107 Brookfield Drive. McNeal needs all donations by Nov. 30