Thursday, September 28, 2006

Support Your Firefighters

The Natchez Firefighters Association is having a Benefit Fish Fry on Saturday, October 14 from 11 am to 2 pm. For a donation of $6, you can pick up a catfish dinner, complete with french fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw, at Duncan Park. The firefighters will also have fire prevention activities for kids. These are the guys (there are no gals yet) who run into burning buildings to save your house, your business, and your family. The least we can do is give them $6. You can get tickets from me or at any firehouse.

One of the good things that came out of the Aldermen raising their salaries was the very deserved raise they also gave the firefighters and police officers. When I went to the next meeting of the Board of Aldermen after the Raises meeting, the room was full of police officers and firefighters. The police made a very good case for a raise, and the firefighters were there to support them. Those Aldermen knew they'd better give them a raise, or there would be hell to pay.

Special Kudoes go to Alderman Gray, who has been pushing for raises for fire fighters for a long time. In fact, when he voted against the Aldermen raises, he said he couldn't vote for a raise for himself until the firefighters got one. I'll bet he could easily get a free catfish dinner, if he wanted one!

I may not be overly fond of the elected officials we have in Natchez, but I know we've got some fine city employees.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Board of Aldermen Votes to Sue Citizens

The Mayor asked the Board to approve taking legal action against the individuals who are "holding up the condo project", and of course the Board went along. In their typical fashion, it was the last item before adjournment. Of course, there was no discussion whatsoever - obviously this was the result of another back room deal. Since they never seem to have roll call votes - just a voice vote - I could only detect one vote against, which was Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis.

As you all know, two developers (Worley Brown) purchased the old Pecan Factory property from the city for basically nothing in order to build luxury condos on the bluff. There was a large group of citizens who were incensed about this project for many reasons, but especially about the way it was handled. Three of those citizens - Gwen Ball, Neil Varnell, and Sarge Preston - filed a lawsuit against the city questioning the legality of the sale of the property. This Board seems to think it can violate the law whenever it wants without any consequences. Thank goodness these citizens were brave enough to challenge them. I personally applaud their courage and thank them for taking this action on behalf of the rest of us.

And what thanks do they get? Their City is suing them! Can you believe that? I guess the City is concerned about losing in a court of law, and now they are resorting to intimidation of these citizens, whose only concerns are the welfare of our community. Here's the message, folks: don't you dare to disagree with this group. This is pretty outrageous in my book - when citizens in the community cannot have a voice in their government.

This condo deal is looking worse all the time. The recently released report from the National Realtors Association indicates that condo prices are sinking and condo sales are way down, and they expect that trend to continue at least a year or two. So why is the city so desperate for this project? It was a bad idea to begin with, and it's not getting any better.

On the subject of the condos, I have heard a nasty rumor, and I would like to know if anyone out there knows anything about it. I was told that Butch Brown, Secretary of Transportation and father of the Brown in Worley Brown, told the City it would not get its Trails Project approved unless the condos were allowed to be built.

UPDATE: The meeting was televised and will be shown on Thursday at 6 pm on Channel 4. This is supposed to be regular now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mayor & Board of Aldermen Non Budget Hearing

I've now been to a public hearing for a nonexistent Budget - it sure was exciting! It was so important that even the Mayor didn't stay for the whole thing, and my Alderwoman wasn't there at all.

There were three pieces of paper handed out. The first was entitled "City of Natchez, Combined Cash Basis Budget, All Governmental Fund Types and Internal Service Funds, Fiscal Year 2006-7". This was a list of broad categories of Revenues (eg Taxes, Licenses & Fees, Bank Loans) and Expenses (eg General Government, Public Safety, Public Works) with amounts from five Governmental Fund Types (General, Special, Debt Service, Capital Projects, and Internal Service). Revenues and Expenses of all types equal $30,693,989.

The second sheet had no title, but I think it was a list of Revenue and Expense line items in the General Fund. One column was labeled October 1 2005-06 and the other October 1 2006-07. Although the next year's Budget was supposed to be the same as this years, the figures in the two columns did not match. Also, neither column seemed to match the first sheet.

The third sheet was totally worthless - a list of the same broad categories which were on the first handout, but with no amounts or fund types.

The hearing began with City Clerk Donnie Holloway reading the first handout with no explanation. That was certainly not very enlightening - unless you don't know how to read. Then the Mayor opened it up to questions and comments from the audience. Hardly anyone was there, since there was really no Budget to have a hearing on. A couple of people asked for funding for certain items. I asked if there would be a public hearing on the amended Budget, and I didn't get a direct answer. The Mayor said they didn't have to but they might. When I asked if the amended Budget itself would be made public, he said yes.

After the public hearing was closed, the Mayor had to leave. There was some discussion by the Board before they adopted the so called Budget. One thing was obvious to me: no one there really understood what they were voting on. Alderman Gray, who is not as dumb as some people think he is, said he knew of only four items they had voted to increase: Legislative, Police, Fire, and (I think) Public Works. He asked the City Clerk if those were the only items that had been changed in the Budget, and he was told yes. Afterwards, I asked Alderman Gray why there were differences between the two columns, if the only changes were the ones he mentioned. He said that's why he asked the question - to get it in the record.

It was really very scary to watch our elected officials deal with a $30+ million Budget. That's our tax dollars - and our city's future.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Questions about Hotel

natchezblues said...
I read in the paper that the city will issue bonds to the persons/co. building the new hotel downtown. Then this co. will buy back the bonds, I believe. I guess this made the deal more appealing, but WHY? Why aren't they paying property taxes? We must stop giving our city away and instead appreciate its value and act accordingly. I know others were interested in buidling a hotel on this site, why couldn't taxes have been a barganing tool in choosing the right prospect.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The County Is Totally Different!

Tonight I went to the County Board of Supervisors for the hearing on their Budget. What a difference in atmosphere from the City!

First of all, they handed out several sheets of paper to everyone in the audience. There was the Proposed Budget, plus two sheets comparing information from this year and the Proposed Budget. Charlie Brown is the recently retired County Administrator, who is consulting on the budget this year. He gave a brief overview of the budget, and then the discussion was opened to the audience. It was very friendly and informal. Anyone could just raise their hands and make comments or ask questions, and I know you'll be shocked to learn that I asked several.

Because the County will have an increase in some revenue sources and has been able to decrease some expenses, the millege rate will be slightly less than last year - so you should pay less in taxes.

The County starts the year with $2,139,377 cash balance, and the Budget projects overall Revenues of $20,776,537 for a total of $22,915,914. About half the Revenues comes from property taxes and about another quarter comes from federal, state, and local government. The rest comes from other taxes, fees, licenses, interest, etc.

The total Expenditures are the same as the total Revenues (required for balancing a budget). The categories are, from largest to smallest: General Government, Public Safety, Public Works, Debt Service, Education, Health & Welfare, Other Financing, Conservation of Natural Resources, Economic Development & Assistance, and Culture & Recreation.

It's difficult to tell much from the Budget itself, since it is based on broad categories. As they say, the devil is in the details. There is a very lengthy budget, with all the line items. I suggested that after the end of the fiscal year (September 30), they send a copy of the entire itemized budget to the Library, which they happily agreed to do, along with a final itemized budget for this fiscal year. They also agreed to see if it was available in electronic form, and if so, to send that to the Library to post on its website. So citizens will have all year to look at the figures and can come to next year's budget hearing knowing exactly how their money is being spent.

I did find out that the Budget ultimately adopted by the Board is the one with the broad categories. The itemized budget is to help the Board determine how much goes into each category. So long as a department stays within its overall allocation, it has flexibility in expenditures. The Board will vote to change the budget only if a department needs to exceed its allocation.

The openness of this meeting was so refreshing!

The City will have it's public Budget hearing next Thursday, September 14 - don't forget to attend. Since they don't have a budget, it should be interesting.

There is also a meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, September 12 at 11 am.