Russ: Natchez Inc. funding remains secure

Published 9:39 am Saturday, October 9, 2021

NATCHEZ — Funding for Natchez Inc. is secure, despite the fact the City of Vidalia has yet to re-up its commitment to the economic development group and despite the fact that the legislature will be asked to approve a resolution next time it is in session that sets funding for the Mississippi municipalities involved.

“The city and the county have passed continuing resolutions that go back to Oct. 1, 2021, and will ask the legislature to approve a resolution, but we can operate without that,” said Chandler Russ, Natchez Now executive director.

“Everybody believes that you have to have the continuing resolution. The reality is it was put in place to protect Natchez Inc. back in the day,” Russ said. “Brookhaven gets contributions from city and county and have no legislation on the state level. Numerous entities operate like that.”

When the old Natchez economic development authority was operating, some were concerned that politics would lead to threats to pull funding, he said.

“In order to combat that, when Natchez Inc. was formed, actually in order for it to operate independently, they did a state resolution that was a five-year obligation and locked in contracts for a five-year period. But not something that is obligatory,” Russ said.

Natchez Inc. receives each year $165,000 from Adams County, $100,000 each from the City of Natchez and the City of Vidalia, and $130,000 from Natchez Now.

Natchez Now is the only group that has increased its annual contribution to Natchez Inc. since its formation in 2010, Russ said.

“Vidalia joined us about six years ago. It’s a little misleading on the Vidalia funding piece. When they contracted with us, it was for $100,000, but Heather Malone’s base salary would come out of that amount. They wound up paying us about $32,000 per year, and Heather remained a Vidalia employee,” Russ said.

Vidalia Mayor Buzz Craft said he is talking with a number of groups on how to proceed since Malone left Natchez Inc. and Vidalia to take a job in economic development in Longview, Texas.

“We’ve been able to operate effectively with that budget,” Russ said. “We are looking to expand in workforce development and also bring on another employee.”

That employee will be either a project manager or a deputy director, depending on whether Vidalia decides to stay with Natchez Inc.

“If they stay in Natchez Inc., we will probably hire someone with three to five years’ experience and pay them in the $65,000 to $70,000 range. If Vidalia goes in a different direction, we will probably hire more of a project manager, someone coming a little fresher out of grad school, who we would have for three or four years before we send them out into the world.

“One of the reasons we are pushing for Vidalia to make a decision is we need to kind of lock down on who we are going to hire. Until we know what Vidalia is going to do, we can’t do that,” he said. “We are missing 40-60 hours of work product a week without Heather here. We need to get back to that. Activity is such that the volume of projects, as well as the plans for all of our partners just from a manpower standpoint, requires those additional hours.”