City leaders set to talk top issues at work session

Published 12:03 am Sunday, October 26, 2014

NATCHEZ City of Natchez leaders will discuss a variety of hot-button issues Monday including the potential sale of Margaret Martin School and the former Natchez General Hospital as well as a tax anticipation loan.

Members of the Natchez Board of Aldermen will gather at 4 p.m. Monday where Natchez Mayor Butch Brown says he hopes to see constructive conversation during the work session.

The potential future sale of Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center came before the board earlier this month, when a developer looking to turn the center into an apartment complex approached the board.

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Jeremy Mears, vice president of the Brownstone Group, requested the board’s permission to approach the Natchez Planning Commission about rezoning the Margaret Martin property.

The city owns the building, but the property would need to be properly rezoned to an R4 designation for apartments for Mears and his company to apply for federal tax credits that would make the project possible. Mears had a similar proposal for the former Natchez General Hospital building in 2013, but set the idea aside after area residents raised concerns.

The Brownstone Group uses state and federal credits to fund the renovation of abandoned or aging properties into affordable, medium-income housing.

Brown said he hopes the board will allow the property to be rezoned and allow the developer to continue planning for the project.

“If it gets rezoned, and they don’t care for the project, you can just take it back to the original zoning,” Brown said. “This is just a first step in the process.”

Based on other projects the company has completed in Vicksburg, Brown said he’s confident the Brownstone Group would take care of the properties.

“Most of these standard housing grants require a developer be responsible for the ownership and full maintenance of a property for 15 years, but under this historic tax credit, the developer has to do that for 30 years,” Brown said. “That’s a solid commitment for any developer to make, and this program has some real teeth to it.”

If the properties get rezoned and the project gets green-lighted, Brown said the city would likely receive nearly $650,000 for both properties — $250,000 for General Hospital and $400,000 for Margaret Martin.

“None of that’s been presented or reviewed, and we would still need appraisals on everything, but those are general numbers,” Brown said. “If we can use them, let’s use them, but if not let’s sell them.”

No action was taken on the matter at the aldermen meeting earlier this month, with board members saying they would continue discussions later.

Brown said board members will also hear a request from City Clerk Donnie Holloway to approve an application for a tax-anticipation loan of $800,000.

Holloway made the same request earlier this month after the board adopted the budget for the next fiscal year, but the request died on the table because none of the aldermen offered a motion for approval.

The issue is strictly cash flow, Holloway said following the meeting. While the city can hope for revenue to come in during the last quarter of the year, Holloway said he would be bringing the request before the board again.

Brown said he believes the tax anticipation loan is a necessity for the city.

“We’re kind of behind the eight ball because if we don’t find the money somewhere, (Holloway) is not going to make payroll,” Brown said. “We have to come up with some way to pay these people if they deny the tax anticipation loan.”

Brown said he expected Holloway to explain the need for the loan further Monday and hear input from the board of aldermen.