By John Mott Coffey, with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ
NATCHEZ, Miss.–The Natchez Board of Aldermen approved borrowing $600,000 Tuesday so the cash-strapped city can meet its November payroll.
The city should be able to quickly repay the short-term loan when property tax revenues come due in December and early next year to replenish the city treasury, said City Clerk Donnie Holloway.
With the fiscal year just starting this month, the city’s general fund doesn’t have enough cash to pay Natchez’ 200 or so municipal workers.
“If we’re going to provide services to the people, we’ve got to pay our employees,” said Mayor Butch Brown
The board voted 4-2 for the tax-anticipation loan from Concordia Bank, with the dissenters being aldermen Dan Dillard and Mark Fortenbery.
“I think we need to reduce costs to payroll because that’s killing us,” said Fortenbery, who mentioned the possibility of laying off some city employees to save money. “Either layoffs or salary cuts — because we’ve got people who get high-paid salaries who maybe should not get it.”
However, Brown said the municipal salaries are not excessive and the city couldn’t bear to reduce its workforce. “Nobody who works for the city of Natchez is overpaid,” he said. We’re understaffed in every department.”
Alderman Sarah Carter Smith said she reluctantly voted to borrow the $600,000 and acknowledged it’s needed to pay city employees. “I hate it as much as anyone, but we’ve got to do it.” she said of the loan.
The other aldermen voting for the loan: Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Ricky Gray and Tony Fields.
This is the second time this month city employees faced not being paid because of the city’s troubled finances. With city administrators failing to meet the September deadline to have a budget ready for the Board of Aldermen’s approval by Oct. 1 – the start of the fiscal year – the city was not been authorized to pay bills for two weeks. The budget was approved Oct. 14, just in time for the twice-a-month paychecks to be distributed.
The city’s finances have been beset by revenue shortfalls and inaccurate bookkeeping amid expenditures that aldermen have questioned as excessive or paid without their approval.