Natchez seeks better debt deal

Published 12:05 am Saturday, March 1, 2014

NATCHEZ — City of Natchez officials say it’s easier to pay one note than multiple notes.

The city is exploring the option of consolidating bonds, Mayor Butch Brown said, in an attempt to lower payments by getting a lower interest rate and making city debt easier to manage.

Brown said he has asked the city’s financial advisers to look into exactly how much debt the city has and if the city has bonds that can be consolidated.

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City Clerk Donnie Holloway said in September the city has approximately $17.7 million in debt, with the largest chunk being the approximately $9.7 million convention center bond.

The bond is one the city is looking at consolidating with others, Brown said.

The $12 million bond was issued in 1999 to build and furnish the Natchez Convention Center, as well as renovate the Natchez City Auditorium and Natchez Community Center.

Brown said he is disappointed in the way the city’s debt has been managed in the past, particularly the convention center bond.

The city refinanced a portion of the bond through an interest-rate swap transaction executed in 2006 with Malachi Financial Products in an effort to save a projected $1.5 million over the next 18 years.

The city also made a modification to the complex 2006 transaction in 2012, which supposedly netted $250,000 to pay towards the debt.

Brown said he does not believe the swap transaction should have been made.

“Certainly during my administration, there will never been another swap transaction done,” Brown said.

“That was done in haste and hyperbole, and it’s very obvious that had it been done for the good of the city, those bonds would have been substantially (reduced).”

Brown said he has not received a satisfactory answer on the details of the debt.

“There’s been an awful lot of money paid against the debt that was incurred back in 1999, and there seems to be very little reduction (in debt),” Brown said.

Consolidating or restructuring debt could lower payments and allow the city to pay off debt earlier, Demery Grubbs, the city’s financial adviser, said.

“You look at it to see a way we can blend or restructure them that gives the city more flexibility in paying that debt,” Grubbs said.

That could provide the opportunity to look at issuing bonds for future projects sooner than expected.

“For example, if you had debt that was to be paid off in 2018 and you restructure it to be paid off in 2015, it allows you in 2015 to look at (financing) other projects.

“What you’re looking at is does it give you any capabilities to pay it off sooner; it may open up some arenas for other projects. It’s just something you explore, and sometimes you can do it, and sometimes you cannot.”

Grubbs said he has a lot of data to gather for the city to explore the option, which could take several weeks.