City gives OK to proceed with satellite senior center grant application

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By ROD GUAJARDO & Vershal Hogan

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez took a small step forward Tuesday in the potential building of a nearly $1 million satellite senior center at North Natchez Park.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to allow Community Development Director James Johnston to proceed with the application for a Community Development Block Grant to fund the construction of the center.

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The grant would require a $477,180 match from the city, $350,000 of which would be cash and the rest in-kind services.

Johnston requested the commitment of the matching funds at a meeting earlier this month, but Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery asked the board be given time to consider the plans.

Fortenbery expressed concerns again Tuesday saying he felt the satellite center would duplicate the same services offered at the current Natchez Senior Multi-Purpose Center.

“I understand more services may be needed, but we have one building that I think needs major attention and yet we’re talking about building something new,” Fortenbery said. “Why not take the money to update what we have instead of building more and more stuff?”

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith asked board members if the new construction would turn into a dilapidated building in 10 to 15 years.

“I want to be financially responsible,” she said.

Mayor Butch Brown told Smith and the other board members that allowing Johnston to continue with the application process was not the same as committing the city to spend the money for the project.

“If we’re offered the money, you don’t have to take it,” Brown said. “You’re not obligated to take it if it’s funded…this is all for the application.”

Johnston explained the timeline of events to the board, saying the city’s application would be one of nearly 100 applications turned in for the funding.

The grant provider would then narrow those applications down to 20 or 25 applications, Johnston said, and organize a site visit with those municipalities, which would likely be in September or October.

“We will have the opportunity to accept or reject the funds,” Johnston said. “What is being asked for is a commitment to move forward with the applications.”

Smith also asked Brown to clarify if the new building would be a community center or strictly a senior center, saying she had heard both words thrown around.

“We have all sorts of programs that are not dedicated senior programs at the current facility,” Brown said. “This is simply the category you use to deal with (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) … that’s how it gets funded.”

Smith asked current senior citizen facility director Sabrena Bartley if she felt the project was necessary and for her opinion on the matter.

“I thought it was a good idea because it would be an asset to the city,” Bartley said. “In the end with the vision that has been presented, it makes good sense, and it’s a win-win situation.”

During the board’s finance meeting, Fortenbery said the city had not considered what maintenance will cost for the center.

Brown said a forthcoming payment from the Magnolia Bluffs Casino would pay for the city’s portion of construction under the grant. When the aldermen queried Johnston on if the casino money could be used for maintenance, he said it was strictly for bricks and mortar.

Smith asked if the city had considered putting the proposed $350,000 in casino funds into the existing senior center on Washington Street.

Johnston said the last facelift the senior center on Washington Street got was in the early 1990s.

“There may come a time it is not feasible to keep that one open,” Johnston said.

Alderman Dan Dillard asked for an estimate of what operating costs would be.

Johnston said he did not have the numbers in front of him, but he believed it would be approximately $100,000 annually.

“A lot of that would be existing staff costs,” he said.

The board eventually voted 5-1 to allow the application process to continue. Fortenbery voted against the measure.

The city’s senior center, located at 800 Washington St., serves nearly 400 residents.

The center’s services include adult day care, home delivery service for meals, meals provided on-site, elderly and disabled transportation, fitness and educational programs and more.