By John Mott Coffey, with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ
NATCHEZ, Miss.–Natchez aldermen voted Tuesday to borrow $350,000 to pay municipal employees amid unanswered questions about why the city is short $1 million to meet expenses.
City Clerk Donnie Holloway asked the Board of Aldermen to approve getting a $1 million bank bailout to help carry the city through the rest of the year, but it voted 3-2 just to get a $350,000 loan as the city runs out of cash.
With the current fiscal year heading into its last month, aldermen said they aren’t getting enough details on how city expenses are exceeding the $33.6 million the board budgeted for 2015.
As City Hall “continues to over-budget, over-spend and under-manage, you’re going to have a $1 million shortfall,” said Alderman Dan Dillard, who voted against taking out the loan.
He said tax collections are not running below what had been budgeted, so “it’s got to be over-expenditures.”
Alderman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis voted for the loan, but she got the board to reduce Holloway’s $1 million request to $350,000 to help tide the city over until September, when more details could be provided on why spending is exceeding revenues
“He said he didn’t have the money to meet payroll,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. ” I don’t know (the city is short of money), and that’s why we’re asking questions.”
Joining her in supporting the loan were alderman Ricky Gray and Tony Fields. Alderman Mark Fortenbery sided with Dillard in voting against it. Alderman Sarah Carter Smith was absent from Tuesday’s vote.
Aldermen for the past year have been questioning Holloway and Mayor Butch Brown about city spending — with the board frequently split 3-3 on whether to pay monthly bills — and continue to be frustrated in getting answers.
The city has been plagued by financial miscues in the past year. The board was a month late in adopting the 2015 budget, and financial books were in such disarray that the city’s outside auditor couldn’t render an opinion on whether the fiscal numbers were accurate.
Aldermen have been assured accounting improvements are being made as they face a Sept. 15 deadline to approve the budget for the next fiscal year that starts in October.
In other action, the board discussed — but put off — a decision on whether to ask the Mississippi Legislature and governor to change the state flag. Brown presented a resolution in support of a new state flag for aldermen’s approval, but aldermen said they want more time to discuss it. The flag’s Confederate emblem is offensive to many people and has tainted Mississippi’s image throughout the country.