City leaders discuss $225K funds from casino

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NATCHEZ — The president of Magnolia Bluffs Casino and city officials met Tuesday to discuss establishing a committee to decide how the city would spend $225,000 the casino is expected to pay the city later this year.

Magnolia Bluffs President Kevin Preston said he wanted to make sure city leaders kept in the forefront of their minds that a committee is to be established to vote on how the community development funds are to be spent.

The meeting took place over dinner at the casino. Mayor Butch Brown, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard, City Clerk Donnie Holloway and City Attorney Hyde Carby attended.

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Preston said he wanted to ensure Natchez knows the casino is a part of the community and can see its contributions through city projects.

“It’s important that customers are able to see improved roads, sidewalks … or whatever it may be, not necessarily for recognition for us, but so that people see what’s going on in the city because of the casino,” he said. “I wanted to get a feel (tonight) about if you guys have any plans or ideas for the money.

“For the amount of money we’re putting in, you’ve got to show what that money is doing.”

The casino pays $1 million in annual rent, as well as the $225,000 annually community development money, $1 million for a “YMCA, community recreation center or Civil Rights museum” paid in $333,000 installments, $300,000 for the Natchez Trails and funds for the development of a Roth Hill public park.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said money from the casino’s annual lease payment is going toward improving Natchez streets. The city completed $500,000 in street repairs and is planning another $500,000 later this year.

“If it had not been for Magnolia Bluffs, we would have been hard-pressed to do that,” Dillard said.

As far as the community development money, Brown first mentioned the recently proposed $1 million satellite senior center as a use for the money.

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

Brown later said the money for a YMCA, community recreation center or Civil Rights museum could be used for the center.

Although the lease agreement sets out those uses, Carby said the money could feasibly be used for the satellite senior center since it is a public space.

Preston reminded the city leaders the community development payment is annual and would need a committee to decide every year.

“That’s every year for infinity, so I don’t know if we need to (set up a committee that would) meet once a quarter or every few months to discuss it,” he said.

Brown said the lease agreement outlined that a committee be established but did not say how many members are to be appointed, just that the casino have a voting member.

“So I have a formula for that, you and I will talk about (how to spend the money),” Brown said to Preston, laughing.

Brown later said the city would work to establish a committee specifically for the community development funding.

Preston also gave highlights of the casino’s contributions to city tax coffers and employee statistics.

The casino employs 219 people, 182 of which are full-time and 37 part-time. Preston said 145 employees are Natchez residents, and the casino’s total payroll for 2013 was approximately $5.7 million.

The casino, which opened in December 2012, has so far paid approximately $734,000 in taxes to the city, approximately $1 million to Natchez vendors for services and approximately $440,000 in property taxes, Preston said.