Leaders concerned about YMCA agreement

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, November 7, 2017

NATCHEZ — After receiving the latest draft of a recreation agreement from the City of Natchez, Supervisors on Monday expressed concerns and the need for a joint meeting.

Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus said his concerns were primarily financial. One concern is the county is spending $11,500 per month on recreation and so far has not return on that investment, he said.

“I don’t know what the hold up is on making progress,” Lazarus said. “Now that the pool is under construction, I am hoping we can move forward with the rest of the plan.”

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Lazarus said he was also concerned about the city’s spending being equal to the original with several factors having been removed from the agreement and the transfer of the bean field.

District 2 Supervisor David Carter also said he wanted to make sure the YMCA still had a future in Natchez.

The original agreement between the city and county handed over responsibility for all recreation matters to the Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission, and the commission, in turn, contracted with the YMCA to handle the day-to-day details.

City leaders balked, however at the agreement after complaints arose from city workers who did not want to answer to the YMCA. The dispute prompted ongoing discussions about revising the agreement and led the YMCA to suggest if a deal could not be worked out, the organization would be forced to leave Natchez.

Natchez YMCA Director Alice Agner said Monday the Metropolitan YMCAs of Mississippi interim CEO Harold Cook would back whatever decision the Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission made as concerns the YMCA’s future in Natchez.

“I serve at the pleasure of the recreation commission,” Agner said. “I am willing to stay to work all this out.”

Agner said she believes Natchez has many great things in its future, and she and the commission have ideas for moving forward.

However, Agner said the ILA concerns have been holding up the recreation commission from moving forward.

“I don’t think the recreation commission is comfortable moving forward until it knows what its role is,” Agner said.

Carter said the purpose of the original ILA was to get rid of confusion by taking city and county politics out of recreation. But despite politics being put back in, Carter said progress has been made.

“There are positives we can work on moving ahead,” he said.

Lazarus said with golf, tennis and the city recreation employees coming out of the deal, should the three factors still be included in what the city is contributing to recreation?

The county has agreed to spend $334,000 per year on recreation maintenance based off of a percentage of what the city would be spending on recreation.

City Attorney Bob Latham said the city was spending more than $800,000 on recreation.

Lazarus asked Latham how much of that is offset by golf and tennis revenue, and Latham did not answer.

Lazarus said additionally the city should not get to count what it spends on golf, tennis and employees toward the joint venture if those aspects are not in the joint venture.

Lazarus said the county does not include what it spends on maintenance of the parks such as Providence Park in what it has committed for the joint venture.

One reason Lazarus said keeping the employees out should not count toward the total is because the decision will force the YMCA to hire new employees to run the pool and other programs, which someone will have to pay for.

Lazarus said to him it appears the $334,000 the county is putting up is going to get spent fast and may not leave a lot of room for anything new if these issues are not cleared up.

“I would rather the city and county have just gotten out of it like we agreed to start with,” Lazarus said. “Now we are starting to change everything.

“I am just saying I want us all to sit down and treat each other fair. And let’s move this forward for the kids.”

Latham said if the board of aldermen writes a check to the recreation commission to pay expenses, and if for some reason the recreation commission did not act according to state law, the board of aldermen would be responsible.

Latham said if the employees were paid by the recreation commission rather than the city, then they would no longer be on state retirement.

Latham said the bottom line is the amount the city is spending on recreation has not changed.

Lazarus and Agner also said the city giving the bean field to the school effectively takes a new recreation complex out of the equation.

Latham said the agreement with the school board has whatever the board does not use to build a school coming back to the city, which could be used to build the complex.

“The bean field is not totally off the table,” Latham said.

Agner said a small school would have to be built to have room for both.

Lazarus said it may be time to just move on from the bean field and see what could be done to improve Liberty Park, Duncan Park and Frazier Park.

“The bean field is done,” Lazarus said. “Let’s upgrade the playgrounds for the kids. We have three schools playing at Liberty Park. Let’s make it first class — it is historic.”