Consolidation of services makes sense

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

City and county leaders are all shaking the proverbial couch cushions hoping to find a little spare change to help them make their budgets a little less tight this year.

Late last week, Natchez aldermen appear to have solved their most pressing need by agreeing to reallocate some of the $1 million annual lease payment the city received from Magnolia Bluffs Casino.

Since the casino first opened, the casino’s lease payment has been the city’s panacea for nearly every financial problem.

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In the first year or so it seemed the $1 million had been spent five or six times over since it seemed aldermen were constantly saying, “Oh, we’ll just use the casino money for that.”

Wisely, the city committed to spend approximately half of the money each year on badly needed street improvements.

Had the city’s leadership been really forward-looking, they would have saved the additional $500,000 or so each year from the remainder of the casino payment and placed into a rainy day fund.

Had they begun saving that money, the rainy day fund would have more than covered the approximately half a million dollars the city has now committed to spend from this year’s lease payment.

The casino money was what most folks would call a windfall. It just fell from sky — well, the city made the negotiations far more complicated than was necessary, but effectively, the city had to do little beyond the initial cost of developing the site, constructing a road, etc. to earn the $1 million lease payment.

Yet, despite that, the city has not turned that windfall into anything all that special.

Instead, city leaders have spent the sizable sum of money on what are arguably routine projects such as road resurfacing.

By now, had the city simply devoted the money to a single cause, a state-of-the-art recreation complex could have been built — and paid for.

A sizable dent could have been made in repairing the city’s crumbling downtown sidewalks or redevelopment along Silver Street at Natchez Under-the-Hill, or any other pressing needs the city has.

Instead, the city now sits in a quandary, having to dedicate the remaining half of the casino lease payment to simply covering routine operating costs.

The county isn’t much better, yet, amazingly, at least three of the county’s five supervisors have said they would support giving themselves a raise, just because they can do so. This is in spite of having to look the rest of the county’s employees in the eye and say, “Sorry, we know we got a raise, but we cannot afford to give you one.”

Hopefully, soon, after this year’s budget seasons are over, the city and county leaders will sit down with one another and have a serious discussion about how the city and county could work together to save taxpayer money.

Logically, so many of the services city and county governments fund separately could be combined.

Merging law enforcement agencies makes immediate sense. So does pooling resources on public works and road maintenance crews.

How much could be saved by centralizing accounts payable, payroll and other such functions?

No one knows, mostly because city and county leaders have never had the motivation to research such things. They would gain motivation if enough taxpayers showed up and said, “Enough working apart. Let’s worth together.”

Each year that passes without our community truly working toward consolidating services, is another year that will likely become more and more fiscally difficult.

Until spending is curtailed or a massive influx of new, employed residents arrives in the community, our community is running on a treadmill. We’re getting tired and going nowhere.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or