$400,000 in extra funds will help stripe city streets

Published 10:32 pm Saturday, May 12, 2018


NATCHEZ — Natchez city streets will soon be improved with new striping thanks to an approximately $400,000 in extra funds Natchez received from Magnolia Bluffs Casino.

City aldermen agreed to dedicate $310,000 toward street care, while earmarking $40,000 toward the city’s summer youth program, $10,000 for the installation of cameras to deter crime and a $7,000 salary increase for Natchez Fire Chief Aaron Wesley.

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More than $38,000 of those funds were previously allocated for construction of a monument to commemorate the Parchman Ordeal, during which more than 150 black men and women were unjustly sent to the state penitentiary in 1965.

The approximately $400,000 is based on the casino’s revenue from last year and comes in addition to the $1 million the casino pays to rent the facility and the $225,000 paid annually to go toward community development projects. Tending to the city’s worn-down streets had been an oft-discussed topic for aldermen, and Wednesday was the first considerable dedication of funds this year to go toward that priority.

As for Wesley’s raise, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith asked for an explanation on how that came about since Wednesday’s meeting was her first time hearing of it.

Justifying the raise, Ward 5 Alderman Benjamin Davis, who is chairman of the city’s fire protection committee, said Wesley was earning $13,000 less than the next highest-earning first-responder — a category including Natchez Public Works and the Natchez Police Department as well as fire.

City records show that Wesley was earning approximately $56,000, while Natchez Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar and Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong earn approximately $69,000 and $85,000 salaries, respectively.

Speaking generally, Smith reminded the aldermen that they must be thinking about setting aside some of these casino monies for a “rainy day fund” going forward, as financial advisor Wallace Collins has recommended because of the city’s low cash reserves.

“It’s a good fiscal practice, and it’s what we’ve been advised to do,” Smith said.

City Clerk Megan Edmonds followed that statement by reminding aldermen that they had already budgeted to set aside $100,000 for such purposes, and that plan remains intact.

In future years, Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said he hopes the city will continue to “wean itself off” using these funds to cover operations and be able to build up even more of a reserve in years to come.

“This year, $100,000 goes into the rainy day fund; next year, $200,000 goes into the rainy day fund … and so on,” Dillard said.

While all the aldermen agreed on the importance of a rainy day fund, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis stressed the importance of building up the city’s youth program to pave the way for future leaders. For starters, Arceneaux-Mathis said, the city should work to give youth job opportunities in city government right here in Natchez.

“Let’s try to get them so that maybe they will think about where their jobs might be so they may stay here and come back here to work,” she said.

Other aldermen agreed with Arceneaux-Mathis including Smith, who still reiterated that the city should emphasize saving money whenever possible.