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Two public forums on consolidation planned

 

NATCHEZ — City officials have worked with government experts from a Mississippi State University research program to host two public forums next month at the Natchez Convention Center aimed at educating both elected officials and citizens on the topic of consolidation.

The two forums will start at 5 p.m. on May 7 and May 21 at the convention center said Alderwoman Sarah Carter-Smith during Tuesday’s meeting with the Board of Aldermen.

“The purpose of this two-part series is to inform constituents of the primary elements and functions of municipal and county government, the services they provide, and the potential options addressing challenges facing the city,” Smith said. “We want unbiased professionals to educate citizens and facilitate a conversation based on factual information.”

The issue of consolidating city and county government services has come up many times over the past few decades, said Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, so much so that he decided to seek information from nearby experts on the topic.

“Before I became a county supervisor in 1997, every three or four years, the subject of consolidation has come up,” Grennell said. “When I became mayor, I said, ‘Why not let some experts come in to talk about what consolidated government is and what that entails?’ If, at that point, the citizens still feel it is necessary to proceed with that process, we could do so.”

Grennell said he contacted Dallas Breen executive director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government two years ago and discussed hosting the educational forum in Natchez.

The institute, named for its founder and former Mississippi United States Sen. John C. Stennis has the mission to offer educational services and comprehensive studies to help municipalities thrive.

Last year, the city unanimously agreed to provide funding for travel expenses and accommodations for a group of experts from the institute to come to Natchez, Grennell said, which costs approximately $5,000.

Grennell said Natchez is by no means new to the idea of consolidating resources with the county; A few services that used to be offered by the city in the past have already been taken over by Adams County and vice versa, Grennell said.

“Years ago, the city had its own tax collection office. … We basically pay the county every year to collect city taxes. … We just recently, since I’ve been mayor, consolidated our 911 dispatch service. … We are the only city in the state of Mississippi that provides fire protection outside of the city limits. Right there is an example of consolidated services that does not exist anywhere else in the state.”

However, Grennell said more efforts to consolidate would cost local governments to hire individuals to do extensive research to find out whether a consolidated effort would be beneficial or harmful.

“It could be well over $100,000 to have a study done,” Grennell said, “and you don’t want to go into it without having the proper research done.”