City, county officials set lobbying priorities for Harper and associates

Published 2:16 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Natchez and Adams County elected officials set priority projects Monday morning and gave marching orders to its lobbyists in the state legislature and Congress.

The Morgantown Road drainage and widening project; planning a justice complex that would include county and city law enforcement, a jail and courtroom facility; city drainage projects; the Natchez-Adams county port and airport improvements; and workforce development emerged as priority areas of concentration for the coming year.

Former Congressman Greg Harper and his associate Brett Bailey, who are contracted to lobby for funding for Natchez and Adams County needs on the state and federal level, discussed ongoing projects and asked officials to set their priorities for funding.

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One of last year’s biggest successes on securing funding for projects was $2.4 million for Morgantown Road.

However, Bailey said it was a success that became a disappointment because of inflation and the ever-increasing costs of construction.

The project has been bid twice, and both times costs exceeded by more than 10 percent the budget for the project, so those bids had to be rejected by state law.

Securing more funding for Morgantown Road remains a priority for the city and county this year.

Bailey also talked about funding needed for the continuation of improvements at the port on the Mississippi River.

He said phase one of the port project has been completed and phase two, which will cost about $1 million, in include installing concrete pilings. The lobbyist have identifying funding to go after in the state’s multimodal funds, which will be available to help ports, railroads and airports to complement funding that may be available from federal sources.

He also discussed the dire need for funding for the county for its work needed on drainage and erosion on Carthage Road and for the city’s Concord Avenue drainage project.

Natchez Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said the need for funds to create a joint city and county law enforcement complex should be a priority.

“I believe in planning for the future and I don’t see on this list anything about public safety. What we are lacking in Natchez and Adams County is a municipal jail complex and police complex. I think we should be looking to build a new complex for the sheriff’s department and police department which should include a jail,” Frazier said.

His suggestion grew legs and others agreed seeking state and federal money for that should be a priority for the lobbyists.

Supervisor Ricky Gray said with the constraints of the county’s budget for the upcoming year, he would not vote to continue the county’s relationship with the lobbying firm.

Gray read off a list of federal and state funded projects from 1993 through 2006 and said he thinks supervisors and aldermen can lobby for state and federal funds without the aid of a lobbying group.

“We raised 9 mills, cut our a whole department and maintenance and cut our sheriff’s department 10 or 15 people and to continue to pay for lobbyists — I’m not saying you’re not doing a good job, but I’ve got to tell it like it is,” Gray said.

However, Natchez Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith reminded Gray that the list of projects he recited came about during the time when the late Butch Brown of Natchez, a former Natchez mayor, was head of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and when Mississippi’s U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott were some of the most powerful in Washington.

Alderwoman Valencia Hall applauded the work of Harper and Bailey and said she will continue to give them her full support.