Board talks tourism

Published 12:37 am Thursday, December 1, 2011

Natchez — City officials determined at a work session Wednesday that the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission has the authority to give previously questioned raises to five visitor center employees.

The Natchez Visitor Reception Center employee raises were originally included in the 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. The board voted to reconsider the raise-freeze during its first quarter budget review.

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The Natchez Board of Aldermen was unsure about the commission’s authority at its Nov. 22 finance meeting before the regular board meeting.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields were not at Wednesday’s meeting.

Former tourism director Walter Tipton fielded questions at the session about the city’s contract with the commission and Senate Bill 3191, which governs the commission.

Tipton said the bill, which includes House Bill 1883 that was passed in 1998 and established the commission, currently governs the commission and gives the commission the authority to operate as an independent entity from the city and operate the visitor center.

The bill gives the board of aldermen the authority to appoint the commission members.

The NCPC has a management contract with the city, in which the commission pays the city to manage the visitor center’s payroll.

Tipton said there is a mix of commission and city employees that work at the visitor center, but they all receive city paychecks because the commission pays the city a monthly fee to manage payroll.

Tipton said employees such as logo shop and maintenance employees are considered city employees, while other employees such as marketing staff and the center’s receptionist were commission employees.

The board concluded at the meeting that four of the five employees were considered commission employees and one was a city employee.

Middleton said after the session he believes all the employees will receive the raises because they work at the visitor center.

Ward 2 Alderman James “Rickey” Gray said he was concerned that since the board of aldermen approves the commission’s budget and it appears on the city’s docket, the board is responsible for any mistakes.

“When you approve the docket, there is no one responsible but you,” he said.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery asked why the board of aldermen was involved in the process if the commission has the authority to give raises.

Dillard said the contract states that the city and the NCPC should meet once a year to discuss the budget. He said that has not been done in the past, and he believes the meetings should happen from now on.

Middleton said after the session he assumes the board will authorize, at its Dec. 13 meeting, the NCPC to implement the raises effective Dec. 1.