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Natchez alderman: City paving program should be restarted

 

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez’s street-paving program has been on hold because of financial concerns, but one Natchez alderman wants to see it restarted.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said in a recent Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting that he thinks the city’s financial health would allow for restarting the program.

Since starting the program a few years ago, more than $1.3 million in street paving projects have been completed, Dillard said.

Facing unanswered questions about city finances, the city paused the program.

The aldermen grappled with solving a nearly $500,000 deficit at the beginning of the current fiscal year as well as ongoing accounting and other issues in the city clerk’s office, which has been plagued by turnover in recent years.

Dillard said this fiscal year, however, the city has seen an increase in revenue from Magnolia Bluffs Casino, which gave the city a somewhat unexpected $400,000 increase to its annual $1 million lease payment. Casino President Kevin Preston presented a check to the city in March. The casino leases city owned property at Roth Hill Road. The lease requires an annual lease payment of either $1 million or 4.5 percent of gross gaming revenue whichever is higher.

The city relied on that money to solve its deficit problem and restore previous budget cuts, including $122,000 cut from the overtime budget of the Natchez Fire Department.

At least part of the casino money has historically been set aside for the street-paving program, with the board’s original intent to complete two rounds of street paving projects each fiscal year.

“We set the monies aside for paving and street improvements,” Dillard said. “What has happened over the years is that the administration, or whoever it was, would make demands on those monies, so it went into the general fund.”

Dillard said he has frequently cautioned city officials to be wary of letting monies dedicated for a specific purpose drift into the general fund, because they could be used for other purposes.

Dillard said federal programs that previously provided funding for street-paving projects are no longer in existence, so the city can no longer rely on assistance it received in the past.

“The city needs to upkeep its streets and infrastructure,” Dillard said.

Interim City Clerk Megan Edmonds said she would not advise restarting the street-paving program this fiscal year.

“It is not something that was put into the budget this year,” she said. “It is something that we are looking at for next year. As much as I would like to see it happen, I would not say we could realistically look at it this year.”

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