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Natchez aldermen delay proceeding with pool grant

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez may need to back out of funding upgrades to features at the community pool on Liberty Road due to economic hardships caused by COVID-19, officials said during a Tuesday meeting.

The project scope included heating and covering the pool, adding an automatic chlorinator, extending the deck and installing showers and cubbies for swim teams.

The Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors had previously committed to fund approximately $70,000 each for the project in addition to grant money provided by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

A modified version of the project included adding permanent lockers and bleachers for swim teams, which would’ve brought the total cost of the project up to approximately $345,000 from $270,000 and would’ve also raised the city’s and county’s match to approximately $84,000 each.

However, the Board of Aldermen voted to defer taking any further action on the project during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The Board of Aldermen also voted unanimously to reject a lone bid for the pool heater that was over the project budget.

“Due to the impact of the virus, I don’t see the funds being available for us to continue this project,” said Dan Dillard, Ward 6 alderman, during Tuesday’s meeting.

Last year, the city budgeted a little over $5.2 million in sales tax revenues and between November and June the revenue had fallen nearly $205,000 behind, which could still be under budget in the coming months as the COVID-19 crisis continues, Dillard said.

“The city is going to look for almost $2 million in sales taxes in four months and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen,” Dillard said.

The city also took a huge loss in gaming revenue when the Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered casinos statewide to close in March and the city’s portion of that revenue is approximately $260,000 under their gaming budget.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith said the board could reapply for the grant later, which funds half of the overall cost of the project.

“How can we vote on stands and lockers when we don’t fully understand the extent of the impact this pandemic will have on our revenues?” Smith said. “… We can apply for these grants again.”

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis moved to defer taking action on the pool until the next board meeting so that all board members could be present to further discuss the project.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving was absent due to the runoff election for Ward 4 that took place on Tuesday.

Smith voted “nay,” stating there was no need to put off voting if it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to proceed with the project, and Arceneaux-Mathis’ motion passed by a vote of 4-1.

Dillard said the board would need to schedule a special-called meeting for next Tuesday to discuss the city’s financials and revise the city’s budget.

“There are only so many places that we can cut,” Dillard said. “… It’s going to be close for us to do everything we can to save everyone’s job.”

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