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Legislator meets with public during Chamber breakfast

NATCHEZ — v

Approximately 50 local officials and citizens of Natchez and Adams County attended Monday’s breakfast to hear the lone state elected official, District 97 Rep. Sam C. Mims V, R-McComb, address the local legislative priorities for this session.

Chamber CEO Debbie Hudson said she was glad to hear that each of the leaders representing Adams County were selected to chair top seats in the Mississippi Legislature, which also meant that several were called to other important duties during Monday’s breakfast, she said.

“I think this is the only year we have had only one legislator show up,” Hudson said.

As the recently reappointed Chairman of the Public Health and Human Services Committee, Mims said his focus during this session is to improve access to healthcare by investing in rural healthcare clinics and hospitals.
“I expect us to have a very good and proactive year going into this session,” Mims said. “… In the last eight years we’ve had very good policies and a good budget. Today, I can say we are, as a state, as financially sound as we have ever been in the history of Mississippi. We have almost $560 million in a rainy day account. We have an unemployment rate below 4%, which is one of the lowest we’ve had in Mississippi. We have a $6.2 billion budget and all of this without raising taxes. All that we’ve done in the past eight years has gotten us to where we are today. I’m proud of where we are right now.”

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., said local officials prioritized a list of needs from the state, including some that were overlooked during the last session such as establishing an elected school board for the Natchez Adams School District and allocating funds for restoring the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Studio on Homochitto Street.

The city is requesting up to $4 million in funds for the restoration of Margaret Martin, which houses performances for the Natchez Festival of Music and Natchez Ballet Academy and other community events.

Last session, $4 million for Margaret Martin listed in a general bill passed by a majority vote in both the House and Senate but was written out of the final bill when it reached the Lt. Governor’s office.

Russ said Adams County is again requesting funds to complete the Bellwood levee construction project, which received $1 million last session.

“We believe we are going to be $750,000 to $1 million short on the funds needed for the final leg of that project,” Russ said.

Adams County officials also requested that $1.2 million in State Aid money previously allocated for a widening and drainage project on Morgantown Road be reinstated.

Russ said the state had previously approved the funds for the project. However, the funds were pulled for emergency bridge repairs as the county was gaining legal rights-of-way and easements to the private properties along Morgantown Road.

“I’ve been on record supporting those issues in the past,” Mims said. “There are a lot of issues for which wish lists have been submitted and so we’re going to do our best. A lot of these may be in bonds and I am optimistic that we will have a bond bill approved in this session.”

One of the new priorities for the state from the City of Natchez entails giving the city the authority to increase the funds allocated to Natchez Inc. in order to appropriate up to $200,000 for the non-profit Film Natchez, which would be used for operating and marketing expenses to create a viable film industry in the city.

The city currently levies a tax millage each year that equates to approximately $90,0000 to $100,000 per year for Natchez Inc., officials said.

A request was also made to give the city and county the authority to add a 1% food and beverage tax countywide in order to pay off bonds for various tourism and economic development projects, including the stabilization of Windsor Ruins, expanding the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians and later the restoration and renovation of the Historic Jefferson College.

“A food and beverage tax of one cent would generate enough to pay the bond somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million,” Russ said. “… Of the $14 million spent, we estimate these projects would generate an additional $13 million in revenue.”

Funds are also requested for Concord Avenue and surrounding streets in need of drainage and repair, which is estimated to cost $1,697,325, officials said.

“I look forward to working will all of your and learning more about each of these projects,” Mims said. “I’m well aware that Natchez and Adams County is a unique place. The tourism industry and the film industry is something that we need to continue to grow. The film industry especially has so much potential.”