Petition seeks to dissolve city

Published 12:33 am Tuesday, August 14, 2018

NATCHEZ — Natchez resident Paul Benoist sent a mass email to area residents Monday afternoon, seeking signatures on an attached petition calling for legislation to dissolve Natchez city government, but a state senator said such dissolution would be disastrous for the area.

Benoist espouses consolidating the city’s operations into a single county government system and the only way to do so under state law in a city of more than 1,000 population in the latest U.S. Census is through state legislation.

Benoist said he hopes to get enough signatures on his petition to attract a state legislator to introduce such legislation in the next legislative session.

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Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said he received a copy of Benoist’s petition and would not support such a measure.

“No. 1, if we go to a county form of government, the City of Natchez loses its sales tax,” Dearing said. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. No. 2, the committee would want to know, are the city and county in agreement on the consolidation. I don’t think they would be.”

In Mississippi, municipalities receive a portion of the sales taxes they collect. Mississippi counties do not receive any sales tax revenue from the state.

Dearing said the loss of city sales tax would be disastrous for the area and would cripple governmental services such as law enforcement and fire protection.

“We’re being forced into taking these actions,” Benoist said, citing crime in Natchez, a declining population and lack of businesses.

The mayor and aldermen’s recent consideration of annexing businesses in Adams County, Benoist said, was one of the reasons that prompted his decision to send out the petition.

“Trying to tax your way to prosperity does not work,” Benoist said. “This is a resident or citizen initiative, and comes from my love of the area . . . We are trying to have a community discussion about this issue, and if it falls on its face then at least we gave it a try.”

Benoist said he plans to further distribute his petition to area retail stores.

Former city attorney Walter Brown said the issue of dissolving the Natchez government has popped up for decades.

“It is a very radical idea and anytime you’re talking about changing the government structure of a city that is 300 years old and has a national reputation, you have to be careful,” Brown said.

Brown said consolidation of city and county services such as fire and law enforcement is a more sensible way to approach efficiency in local government.