Natchez taxes to increase?

Published 12:06 am Saturday, September 2, 2017

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez announced Friday the intention to consider a possible tax increase of 2 to 4 mills.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said any increase in millage would primarily be used to raise wages of police officers and firefighters; something Grennell said has been a goal of his since he began his mayoral term.

“We have got to improve the salaries,” Grennell said. “We all know this because we’ve been serving as a training ground. We’ve been investing in our police officers, we’ve been investing in our firefighters, and we’ve been losing them to other communities because of their rates of remuneration.”

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Grennell listed the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Vidalia Fire Department as two examples of entities that have drawn Natchez employees out of the city for better pay.

The city has not levied a tax increase since a 5-mill hike in 2005. The city’s current millage rate is approximately 42.73.

The board voted 4-0 to advertise the consideration of a millage increase up to 4 mills (Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard did not attend Friday’s meeting).

After consulting with CPA Wallace Collins earlier in the week, City Attorney Bob Latham said the city is required by statute to advertise the intent to assess a possible tax increase two weeks prior to a public hearing at which the budget and potential levy of taxes for the upcoming fiscal year would be considered. The deadline for the city to approve a budget is Sept. 15.

Latham also said the city must specify a number of mills in their advertisement, and the city decided on 4 mills in order to be conservative.

“You can always go down (from 4 mills), but you can’t go up,” Latham said.

Grennell stressed that the millage increase, if approved, could very well be less than 4 mills.

“We may not need the 4 mills,” Grennell said. “It may be 2 (mills) — I don’t know, but Wallace (Collins) said let’s just put that safeguard in there so we’re covered.”

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis estimated that a 2-mill increase would bring in approximately $234,000 of additional tax revenue for the city. Arceneaux-Mathis suggested the money could be “earmarked” for the police and fire departments by percentages.

For example, dedicating 60 percent of the revenue to police would give them approximately $140,400, while the fire department would receive approximately $94,000 with 40 percent of the additional revenue.

“I think the people will swallow it better because they know that it’s just what (Grennell) just outlined,” she said. “It’s for their protection … somebody’s going to protect their lives.”

The city will hold two public hearings to allow residents to present comments or concerns regarding the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget and potential millage increase: 4:30 p.m., Thursday and 5 p.m., Sept. 15.

The discussion of a tax increase comes on the heels of pleas from police chief Walter Armstrong and fire chief Aaron Wesley for raises.

An entry-level Natchez police officer makes $12.18 an hour, or approximately $25,000 annually, Armstrong said. City firefighters earn just $8.36 an hour for an entry-level position, or approximately $17,000 a year, Wesley said.