Voters’ opinion on consolidation could shape future
Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 16, 2017
In a few months, Natchez and Adams County have an opportunity to shape the future, with only a bit of community involvement and, perhaps, the realization old habits and beliefs may no longer be true.
What needs to happen is underscored by something small that occurred several years back in a local election.
A man seeking political office in Adams County ran several political advertisements with a simple message: Natchez is in Adams County.
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The immediate response to seeing the message was: But of course it is. Perhaps some people even laughed at the campaign’s simple, but obvious message.
But the man’s greater point — which perhaps was lost on voters as the man’s bid for office was unsuccessful — was that although running for a “county” office, the candidate understood he represented a large swath of the City of Natchez as well.
His point was well taken and since that time more county elected officials go out of their way to point out their allegiance to the city.
Once upon a time — not too long ago — Adams County and the City of Natchez were akin to the Southwest Mississippi version of the Hatfields and McCoys. They just didn’t like one another and certainly didn’t work with one another.
Although the worst of the feud may have subsided many years ago, small bits of animosity lingered.
Some city folks long ago looked down their noses at county residents, as if the city limits boundary somehow made them superior. That belief is long gone in all but perhaps a few small circles.
County residents laughed at the city for its historical preservation rules and higher taxes. They chuckled quietly when the City of Natchez struggled with finances while the county benefited from residents and businesses fleeing to the county and developing larger and larger tax bases for the county.
Over time the overt disagreements slowly changed, despite continuing separations in structure and duplications of duties.
Natchez and Adams County are unique in that the community is one of only few places in the state in which a single municipality resides inside the county.
Yet, taxpayers still fully fund two separate law enforcement agencies — the Natchez Police Department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office.
Taxpayers still support two payroll offices, two public works offices and even two jails, each staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Logically, that duplication and the additional administrative overhead of the separate agencies required must be financially inefficient.
A few select citizens have pushed to get the city and county government to move toward merging into one.
Those efforts have gone on literally for decades with no movement. The reason is two-fold.
First, figuring out how to merge entities together is difficult and quite frankly, government is like water and flows to the lowest point of action, only moving when a force moves upon it first.
Second, the people who are in a position to do something — namely city and county elected officials — have no interest in reducing their own pay, power or influence.
So consider a logical outcome is left up to the voters — the force that must move upon its government.
A group of residents can move to place a non-binding referendum on the November ballot to see what the people think about consolidation.
The effort could be made just like the 2009 countywide vote on recreation in which 78 percent of the voting public supported the city and county working toward recreation. Such a “people poll” could empower elected officials who may support the cause but not want to upset someone else’s apple cart to move forward with it.
The campaign in support of the referendum should point out that consolidation could — and would with a plan — improve pay and work conditions for law enforcement officers and firefighters and lead to the possibility of a tax cut for residents.
The language on the ballot could be simple: Would you support the consolidation of city and county government services in an effort to save taxpayer money?
We already have the campaign slogan: Natchez is in Adams County.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.