City to consider applying for $1.2M MDOT grant

Published 12:35 am Wednesday, December 13, 2017


NATCHEZ — City leaders discussed Tuesday possibly applying for a state grant that could lead to more than $1.2 million for infrastructure improvements in downtown Natchez.

Community Development Coordinator James Johnston brought the matter before the Natchez Board of Aldermen at Tuesday’s regular meeting, listing potential improvements for the heart of the city’s business district.

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The grant program is through the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Johnston said the 2018 Transportation ‘FAST ACT’ Alternatives Program Grant would constitute a federal-local match.

If awarded, the city would receive approximately $980,000 from MDOT and would need to contribute approximately $280,000 in matching funds. Johnston noted these figures are merely preliminary estimates.

The project, Johnston said, would involve changes such as improvements to sidewalks, leveling asphalt in areas where surfaces have become hazardously uneven, and making areas of downtown ADA compliant by adding handicapped accessible ramps, just to name a few.

Natchez Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar said approximately 20 years had passed since the last type of infrastructure overhaul occurred downtown.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she supported the project and was fine with spending money to improve the city, but also that she first wants to meet with CPA Wallace Collins to ensure the city is able to responsibly commit the approximately $300,000  match the project requires.

Collins serves as a financial consultant to the city and helped put together the budget for this current fiscal year.

Mathis also mentioned FOR Natchez’s downtown revitalization project and was concerned about what additional funds the city might need to commit for that effort.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said the city is expected to commit funding for a study that would determine how to best implement anything that results from the downtown revitalization final plan, which is expected to go before the board for approval in February.

The first study commissioned for the project cost approximately $100,000, officials said, and Mathis extrapolated that figure to future spending.

“What I’m saying is, I’m not going into an election year thinking that we can do $300,000, plus more money in terms of (FOR Natchez’s) plans,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We need to meet with them and see if this would be considered as our in-kind (funding) to their plan.”

A majority of spending for the infrastructure project would occur in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, Johnston said. The election year Mathis referred to is 2020.

Mathis also said she wants to hold a public forum involving both residents and local business leaders to see if the public would actually support spending that kind of money for these improvements.

She said the city has undergone similar projects that aimed to improve downtown infrastructure but later resulted in negative feedback from residents, who were upset when the city had no more funding to dedicate to other issues.

“I might get caught up once, I’m not going to get caught up twice,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving agreed a public forum is necessary.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard noted Arceneaux-Mathis’ concerns while also stating his desire to move forward with an application.

“On (the) business end of it, we have limited funds, and we have to look at what our responsibilities are,” Dillard said. “We’ll have a chance to get with the city clerk and some of the others to see how the funds are available over the two fiscal years, but I think it’s certainly worthwhile moving forward with the process.”

The application for the MDOT is due Jan. 31.