Aldermen vote to borrow $350,000 for payroll

Published 12:37 am Wednesday, August 26, 2015

NATCHEZ —The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 Tuesday to borrow $350,000 to cover payroll and other obligations due through the end of the month.

Natchez City Clerk Donnie Holloway said the city isn’t broke, but it is merely running low on cash because of the time of year.

“This is crunch time for us,” Holloway said. “We get in a bind at this time every year.”

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Holloway said the city would be able to pay back the loan from United Mississippi Bank late this year or early next year.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard, who voted against the loan, said the city could have avoided this financial bind if it had a better budgeting system.

“If this board continues to overbudget and overspend, you’re always going to have to borrow money at the end of the year,” Dillard said after the aldermen’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Before the board voted to approve the $350,000 allocation, Holloway proposed borrowing $1 million, which he said would cover the city’s financial needs through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1

After his initial proposal, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked Holloway how much the city would need just to cover payroll through August.

Holloway told Arceneaux-Mathis the city needed approximately $300,000.

“That’s when I made a motion that we add $350,000,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

With that motion, Arceneaux-Mathis recommended the board hold a separate meeting to determine where the city stands financially for the remainder of this fiscal year.

“I don’t know why we are short so much money,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “I’m hoping (Assistant City Clerk) Wendy (McClain) can tell us why.”

Arcenaux-Mathis, Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Gray and Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields voted in favor of the loan while Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery and Dillard voted against it.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah carter Smith was not present for the vote. She was at the county courthouse voting in the runoff election.

Holloway said after the meeting that he expected the city would need to borrow additional funds prior to the end of the calendar year. Ad valorem tax receipts that typically are received in late December and January would repay any borrowed money, he said.

In other city news:

-The board unanimously approved a motion to accept a low bid of $879,000 from Paul Jackson and Sons for the renovation of the former railroad depot on Broadway Street.

With that bid, Community Development Director James Johnston said the city needs to locate approximately $170,000 to cover remaining renovation needs at the depot that were not covered in the bid.

Johnston said the Mississippi Department of Transportation might be able to cover $136,275 of that cost, which means the city would have to come up with approximately $33,725.

On top of those costs, Johnston recommended the board budget an additional $25,000 for contingency.

-Natchez Festival of Music Artistic Director Jay Dean asked the board to consider leasing the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center to the Natchez Festival of Music.

The center is currently owned by the city, and houses the Natchez Festival of Music yearly.

“We have been without a lease on the building since 2012,” Dean said. “Without a legal lease, we do not have any right to be in the building, which puts us in danger of having to vacate at any point.”

Dean also asked the board to consider including a $20,000 yearly allocation in its next fiscal year budget to cover recurring maintenance costs at Margaret Martin.

“With 2016 coming, we need to have our best face on,” he said.

Dillard said he supported the recommendation, and plans to take a survey of the building to determine immediate structural needs.

“I think we call can appreciate a historic building, but it needs updates,” Dillard said. “I don’t think anyone would appreciate a historic bathroom.”

-The board voted to form an inter-local agreement with the county to build a task force to study the best way to move forward with a city-county recycling program.

Green Alliance Chairman Jim Smith said the city’s recycling program expires in June 2016.

“Recycling markets are in turmoil, but I think there is a solution,” he said. “If we form a task force, I think we can determine what would be best for the board and residents.”

-Johnston updated the board on plans to renovate the Natchez Senior Citizen Center.

Johnston said an environmental study of the building recently began, and the city is planning to reach out to an architect soon to discuss renovation needs.

-The board received three bids for the purchase of 21 self-contained breathing apparatuses for the Natchez Fire Department.

The majority of the funds for the apparatuses, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said, would be provided by FEMA.

The low bid was from A1 Fire Equipment based in Laurel for $131,262. Rayne, La.-based Bonaventure Fire & Safety gave the high bid of $154,888.

The board voted to take the bids under advisement.

-City Attorney Hyde Carby told aldermen that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality began its first phase of assessing the former Titan Tire plant, located at 89 Kelly Ave.

Titan Tire recently expressed interest in ending its lease with the city to occupy the building, which hasn’t been in business since 2001.

-In his mayor’s report, Brown said he received a request to designate Natchez as a smoke-free city, meaning no cigarette smoking would be allowed on city-owned property.

The board voted to take the request under advisement.

-The board met in executive session to discuss leasing a surplus city property.