Garbage collection, bonds hot button issues among supervisor candidates at forum

Published 1:02 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

NATCHEZ — Garbage collection costs and $12 million in new bonds for the county for road and park improvements were the hot-button issues in the campaign forum Monday night.

The forum, an annual event of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce and Listen Up Y’all Media, featured Aug. 8 primary candidates for county supervisor, chancery clerk, circuit clerk and tax assessor.

The forum continues Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Natchez Convention Center, 211 Canal St., for candidates for sheriff, justice court judge for the southern district, district attorney, northern district constable and county prosecutor.

Email newsletter signup

Supervisors Districts 1 and 2

The rowdiest portion of the forum, which turned into a debate of sorts at times, was between former District 1 supervisor, Mike Lazarus, who is seeking that position again, and Wes Middleton, who unseated Lazarus in a county election four years ago.

Middleton began the portion of the forum featuring candidates for county supervisor for Districts 1 and 2.

He highlighted his accomplishments, including the working relationship the supervisors have fostered with Natchez elected officials and what has been accomplished because of that relationship.

“Four years ago, I made a promise to the people of Adams County. My first goal was to build a working relationship with the city government. That has happened. The relationship between city and county government is in a place that it hasn’t been in years,” Middleton said. “I also made a promise that I would work hard every day for every resident of Adams County, not just the residents of District 1. I serve every one of you.

“I made another promise that I would run the county like a business, and I’ve done that. I’ve made decisions that were tough. I’ve made decisions that were unpopular, but I’ve been able to go to bed and night and sleep knowing I’ve made decisions that are in the best interest of everyone in this community,” he said.

Mike Lazarus used his opening statement to highlight what he said are differences between himself and Middleton. He said he has owned and operated his own business for 27 years.

“Four years ago, I sat in this room and he told us how bleak everything was in Adams County, no industry, no jobs. But that wasn’t the case. CTA, Von Drehle, Delta Energy, Interfab, Jones Lumber, Wentwood and Lincoln Terminal all came about during my terms. Since then, I don’t think there is one,” Lazarus said. “Second thing, his second year in office, he voted for himself a raise. I would never vote for myself a raise. I would never do that, never will.

“And right now, when I’m talking about the difference in us, we are losing so much money with this garbage deal, it’s just killing me. It’s hurting my soul,” Lazarus said.

He said, based on information he received from a public records request, at the end of the year, the county would be $300,000 to $400,000 out of budget on the garbage collection line item alone.

“They refuse to raise rates on county residents for garbage collection. If you live in the county, you should thank the city people, because they are helping pay your garbage bill,” Lazarus said.

He also brought up the $12 million in bond issues the county has secured in recent years.

“I don’t spend money like that. I run a business and I don’t do that,” Lazarus said.

However, Middleton countered, explaining the county recently completed one of its most aggressive road paving projects ever with approximately $8 million of the bond money Lazarus referred to, which was paid for with use tax money dispersed at the state level.

“Use tax money can only be used for roads and bridges,” Middleton said. “That entire project, which you are driving on, did not cost county taxpayers one additional cent.”

Middleton also said the remainder of the bond money to which Lazarus referred was used to renovate each of the four county parks and the equestrian center, as well as $2.6 million that is going to extensively renovate Chester Willis baseball field. That money is also paying for the digitization of records in the chancery clerk’s office.

The bond money for improvements to the county’s parks and Chester Willis Field is being funded by the county’s existing budget of $440,000 for recreation.

Middleton reminded Lazarus of the $9.25 million in bond money borrowed under Lazarus’s watch while on the county board of supervisors, which was used to purchase the Rentech property.

“We are still paying $600,000 a year for that,” Middleton said. The Rentech property, which was once the site of International Paper Co., won’t be paid off until 2033.

Neither District 2 Kevin Wilson nor Middleton voted in favor of the county’s current garbage contract, Wilson said.

“I would love to have the opportunity to represent the district as supervisor again. I’ve run a business of my own for the last 30 years and I never have to ask anybody what I can do and can’t do or have to take a vote to make a decision, so it’s been a big learning curve for me,” Wilson said.

He said he never promised anyone anything when he was running for his first term four years ago, other than he would work hard every day all day and would go above and beyond the call of duty.

“I think the sheriff would verify that I’ve worked hard because he has run into me picking up trash on Kingston Road or filling potholes,” Wilson said. “I love this county. My wife (Dana Stewart Wilson) and I share four children and 11 grandchildren, so we have a vested interest in this county. We own 50 or so rental houses and 3,000 acres of land and really care about the tax structure in Adams County.”

Wilson said he has been frustrated about the garbage collection issue.

In March, by a three-to-two vote, the county’s board of supervisors voted on a garbage collection contract with United Infrastructure, which is the company formed by the bankrupt Metro Services, with which the county contracted previously for garbage collection.

Metro could no longer operate at the contract rate it had given the county. The rate at which the new contract was approved is approximately three times greater than the previous rate — $26.66 per residence per month for twice-weekly pickup.

Supervisors Warren Gaines of District 5, Angela Hutchins of District 3, who is running unopposed this election cycle, and Ricky Gray of District 4 voted to contract with the newly-formed United Infrastructure, rather than the bid of Arrow Disposal for $17.45 per residence per month for once weekly pickup, which would include a 95-gallon trash container.

The contract with United Infrastructure is costing the county an additional $600,000 per year for garbage collection.

“I still don’t know how we are going to pay for it,” Wilson said. “I ask every time I get a chance how we are going to pay for it and I’m told, ‘Let’s wait until after the election.’ Y’all should know by now how we are going to pay for it and I should, too.”

In the District 2 election, Wilson faces Francis Ransom.

“I am a 1973 graduate of North Natchez High School and a 1978 graduate of Tuskegee University,” Ransom said.

He worked for 30 years with Ransom Construction Co. and for 13 years with International Paper Co. Ransom is now retired.

“I invented an attachment that, when put on a Bobcat, reduced the hours from eight that it took people to do a job to three or four. I also wrote policy that reduced waste and cut spending,” he said.

Ransom also worked with the City of Natchez to help develop the Forks of the Road site, he said.

Supervisors Districts 4 and 5

District 4 Supervisor James “Ricky” Gray is unopposed in the Aug. 8 primary.

He said he served on the city’s board of aldermen for four terms and is serving currently his second term as a county supervisor.

“We have been real busy the last four years. We did an $8 million road bond that paved 80 or 90 roads, but it didn’t cost the taxpayers any money because we used our use tax money we get twice a year (from the state),” Gray said.

“Also, we did a recreation bond, which was needed. We upgraded every park in our county and are still doing it. We worked with the airport director to upgrade the airport and in the future, we will be having (commercial) planes flying in and out of here. We worked with the port director. We still are working on the liquid loading dock and have one of the best port facilities in the State of Mississippi,” he said. “I think we’ve been doing a great job.”

James Berry is running for District 5 supervisor, challenging incumbent Warren Gaines.

Berry said he is a 1984 graduate of North Natchez High School.

“Back then we had school pride. North Natchez pride, Thompson pride and had South Natchez pride,” Berry said. “We also had IP, Johns Manville. Everybody in Natchez was doing good. I did not want to leave. For some reason, something changed. The biggest thing I saw was leadership changed.

“In the last 20 something years, we’ve lost about 8,000 people. I’m sitting back hearing all this about roads, the bonds, the different things (that are supposed to happen). But nobody’s talking about bringing people back to Natchez, drawing people back to Natchez. That’s where the money comes from. We’ve got to get people back here to pay taxes so we don’t have these issues about money. When you don’t have people, you don’t have a tax base. I’m going to get involved with schools, workforce program and I’m going to get involved with trying to better this community,” Berry said.

Incumbent Gaines discussed his background, including a 30-year career as an auto mechanic at Firestone and an instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

“We have had major growth and record-breaking money that has come in from grants — $7 million for the airport and port money. We’ve talked about what are we going to do for our children. We have upgraded every park for our children.

“The county, city and school board hired a workforce director and we’ve added 200-plus jobs,” Gaines said. “We are pushing hard every day.”

Brad Dean is also challenging Gaines for District 5 county supervisor.

“I attended Natchez High and went on to attend Jackson State,” Dean said. “I have been in the automobile industry for 23 years, from sales all the way to the top running a dealership. I have volunteered in the community for 17 years as a public address announcer for Natchez High School.”

Dean said he is president of the booster club for Natchez High football and is a mentor in the school district and is a spokesperson for the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency.

“I am an open-hearted, honest person and it’s time to move Adams County forward. We are at a crucial period in Adams County. That gives us an opportunity to all come together and move forward economically, also in our public schools,” he said. “Right now we have an opportunity to band together to move Adams County forward.”