Natchez aldermen review grant funding

Published 12:45 am Tuesday, January 5, 2016

NATCHEZ — Natchez aldermen collectively scratched their heads Monday and tried to locate matching fund sources for a pile of city grant projects.

Assistant City Clerk Wendy McClain and Community Development Director James Johnston presented reviewed with the aldermen a list of approximately $8.7 million in grant projects the city has currently. Of that total, the city is obligated to provide approximately $1.4 million in matching funds.

The spreadsheet provided by Johnston and McClain outlines the project, the granting agency, total project costs, the local matching funds required and from what account or fund the city would provide the match.

Some of the matching funds are covered by in-kind services or were included in the approved budgets of various city departments and entities.

Noticeably absent, though, is where the money will come from to fund the city’s match of approximately $119,000 for the renovation of the downtown railroad depot on Broadway Street.

“Surely Mr. (Warren) Reuther could pay that ($119,000),” Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, referencing New Orleans Hotel Group President Warren Reuther. A company created by Reuther is leasing the depot from the city for future use as visitor center.

The total project cost is approximately $1 million, the bulk of which is being funded by a grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Also not budgeted is from what account $150,000 will come to match a $150,000 grant from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for the renovation of restrooms at Duncan Park. The city will also need to determine where another $100,000 will come from if it elects to complete the full project which includes a new tennis pro shop.

Mayor pro tem Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she understands approximately $339,000 would be needed in local matching funds to complete the approximately $13 million North Natchez Drainage Project that has spanned several years.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she would be seeking assistance from Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, to see if state funds are available.

Arceneaux-Mathis said, however, since this is the first time the city has needed to come up with matching funds in the multi-million dollar project, she would not shy away from asking for the board to approve a loan for the match.

“If we have to borrow … I am going to be standing on top of this (table) asking for it,” she said.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery said he has no issue with taking a loan for the Duncan Park project, if the board decided to move forward with the full project.

“I know a bunch of people don’t recognize this as a major project, but I just can’t believe as much as I’ve been in those restrooms and you have … either we just don’t do this and shut them down and rent (portable restrooms),” he said.

Arceneaux-Mathis briefly stated perhaps the city should consider setting up loans with payment plans for matches rather than trying to pay them in lump sums.

Approximately $185,000 to complete the St. Catherine portion of the Natchez Trails Project is supposed to come from the city’s capital improvements fund.

That’s a fund Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said is mentioned so often as a source of matching funds for grants that it’s concerning.

“We can keep saying capital improvements, but I don’t think capital improvements is going to be able to service all these projects,” he said.

Dillard said he believed the money for the Trails was originally supposed to come from the $300,000 the city received in its lease with Magnolia Bluffs Casino to finish the trails project, but Dillard said that money was spent on adding the Bridge of Sighs to the Trails.

McClain said a determination needs to be made on the matching funds for the grants because a directive cannot be found in the board’s minutes on from which account or fund the money should come.

Dillard said the issue is not the money or that the city does not have it, it’s the process by which the city determines, or rather does not determine, where matching funds will come from in the city’s budget.

“The issue is again in the process,” Dillard said. “It’s not in the budget, the matching funds are not identified. That’s how you get to the end of the year, and you can’t pay your payroll.

“And then you go to the end of the year and stand there with your pockets out and they say, ‘Well, folks, we’ve got to borrow money.’”

In other news from the meeting:

-Retired Justice Court Judge Mary Lee Toles was sworn in as Ward 2 alderman by Judge Patricia Dunmore. Toles is filling the seat vacated by Rickey Gray, who held the Bible for Toles during the ceremony. Gray was elected county supervisor and began his service in that position Monday.

-The board approved correcting a typographical error in its record to reflect May 24 instead of May 26 would be the date of a runoff election if necessary for the city primary races in the upcoming election.