City official: Insurance is big obstacle

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, September 2, 2015

NATCHEZ — City leaders continued crunching numbers for nearly four hours Tuesday to prepare a proposed 2015-2016 budget.

Officials met with department heads from city inspections, public works, recreation and the Natchez Senior Citizens’ Multipurpose Center.

One of the biggest obstacles in preparing the budget, Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said, is accounting for a more than $229,000 increase in employee insurance costs.

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“This is cold water in the face,” Dillard said of the increased health insurance premium costs, which total approximately $229,220.

The increased costs are the result of a combination of the city switching from being self-insured to third-party insured through United Healthcare and an increase in the number of city employees

“We really need to have a separate meeting just to discuss insurance care,” Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said during the work session.

Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Gray suggested the board appoint two or three board members to strictly deal with changes in insurance costs, and seek bids from other companies that might offer lower premiums.

“We have to get other bids on this,” said Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith.

Other than unexpected insurance costs, Assistant City Clerk Wendy McClain said proposed city budgets looked reasonable.

-City Inspections

Natchez Building Inspector Jody Rutter requested the city split its inspections budget to account for any special assessment revenue, such as paid liens on nuisance properties.

“If we knew what was in that account, then we could draw out of it,” Rutter said. “Just to track those numbers would be good.”

Rutter said any extra revenue to inspections is currently being placed under a miscellaneous line item.

-Public Works

With the recent consolidation of engineering services into the public works department, Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar said two employees — a secretary and an engineering technician — were absorbed into his department.

Dollar also noted two additional employees were hired to cut grass on overgrown city properties.

Those two additional salaries total $42,640.

“Any money that comes in from adjudication could go toward grass cutting,” Dollar said. “It could fund itself.”

One of the biggest costs within public works, Dollar said, is going to be updating equipment such as lawn mowers and trailers.

However, because the city terminated its engineering department, Dollar said extra funds were now available to cover those costs.

“We’ve already saved a lot of money and cut a lot of costs from engineering,” he said.

Within the proposed public works budget, Dollar also included a $40,000 traffic director salary — a position that is currently vacant in the wake of former director Curtis Norton’s retirement.

Since Norton’s retirement, Dollar said the department has been looking for a replacement.

“We haven’t found anyone yet, but I left that salary in there just in case,” Dollar said.

Aldermen also questioned sanitation costs within the public works budget.

Dillard said sanitation costs to Waste Pro should be consistent on a monthly basis. However, those expenditures have been varying.

“When we pay for recycling, something is fluctuating and I don’t know what it is,” Dillard said.

Dollar said Community Development Director James Johnston was currently looking into why those expenditures were fluctuating.

-Natchez Senior Citizens’ Multipurpose Center

Sabrena Bartley, executive director of the center, said her main concern with the 2015-2016 budget is accounting for the increased insurance cost.

“My department is one of the few city departments whose income arrives from grants rather than the city,” Bartley said.

Because most of the center — and the Natchez Transit System, which falls under Bartley’s budgeting umbrella — is funded through grant monies, McClain said the city provides most of its funds in matches.

For the center, McClain said the city is currently budgeting $130,000 in match money, and the city allocates $200,000 in match funds for the transit system.


Aldermen and city officials met with representatives from city golf, tennis and baseball fields.

Henry Harris, tennis director, said the city needs to budget extra money for tennis court improvements and a new tennis pro shop.

“I’ve got tennis courts that need resurfacing,” Harris said. “We had someone fall just last month and break her arm. It’s becoming an insurance problem.”

Dillard said the city would look into renovating the city’s eight tennis courts, and Johnston was currently seeking grant money for a new pro shop.

All aldermen were present for the work session except Ward 5 Aldermen Mark Fortenbery and Natchez Mayor Butch Brown.