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Mississippi Legislature funds Natchez civil rights monument, Adams County levee
from Staff Reports - NEWS
April 1, 2019 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The state Legislature ended its annual session Friday finalizing bills that include funds to help build a Natchez civil rights monument and the Adams County levee to protect a key industrial site from Mississippi River flooding.

There’s also more funds to renovate buildings at the old Natchez College.

However, lawmakers scratched out money they previously approved for renovating Natchez’ old Margaret Martin school building.

For the Adams County levee, $1 million is tucked into a multimillion-dollar package of construction projects throughout the state the Legislature is funding by borrowing money through bonds. The Adams County Board of Supervisors is in the process of building the levee on county-owned land being developed for industries to occupy by the river. The money is in Senate Bill 3065, which goes to Gov. Phil Bryant for him to sign into law.

Federal funds have been provided to build part of the levee already done at the old Belwood golf course, but more money is needed. “It probably is going to be more like $2.5 million to complete the levee,” said Calvin Butler, president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors. He noted an industry has agreed to build a plant on the flood-prone property if the levee is close to completion.

However, $6 million for the city-owned Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center is missing in the final versions of bills passed by the Legislature last week.

“Where’s the Margaret Martin money? What line can I find that on?... No answer,” an obviously exasperated Sen. Bob Dearing asked on the Senate floor Thursday when the bond bill came up for a vote. The Natchez lawmaker posted comments and a video of his speech on Facebook.

The Mississippi House and Senate had passed separate bills in recent weeks for the state to borrow $6 million for the old Natchez high school, but it got deleted last week by House-Senate negotiators.

Dearing blames Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for this. He maintains Reeves, who presides over the Senate, ordered the $6 million be taken out in what Dearing called a “shallow” move.

However, a spokesperson for Reeves noted the Senate president can’t “unilaterally strip anything out” of a bill. That’s done by legislators, said Laura Hipp, Reeves’ communications director.

Hipp noted lawmakers earmarked more than $1.4 million for Adams County – more than most Senate districts’ local projects – with the levee being the bulk of that. Reeves’ focus on job development, she said, led legislators to “determine that strengthening the levee was the best investment of state resources.”

The former Margaret Martin school -- the longtime home of the Natchez Festival of Music -- has been plagued for years by various structural problems and repair needs. The city has been struggling to find funds to renovate the Homochitto Street building, a state-designated historic landmark built in 1927 as Natchez High School.

Recent plumbing problems have rendered the building unusable. The music festival is having to relocate events to the Natchez City Auditorium. The annual month-long event is in May.

A fundraising effort continues for collecting private donations for MMPAC’s restoration.

For the Natchez civil rights monument commemorating black marchers’ “Parchman Ordeal” 54 years ago, $38,300 is included in a bill that earmarks money for a variety of local projects around the state. Senate Bill 3049 now goes to the governor.

“If the state approves the $38,300, this will be great news for the city,” said Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, who’s been leading the efforts to build the monument that will memorialize the plight more than 150 blacks endured in 1965 when arrested and jailed by Natchez law-enforcement officers as the marchers were protesting for civil rights.

With a total cost estimated about $115,000, the black granite monument and accompanying plaza is to be located at the corner of Jefferson and Canal streets on the Natchez City Auditorium grounds.

The state funds for this can be combined with the $38,300 the city Board of Aldermen has allocated along with about $15,000 the mayor said has been raised thus far in private funds for the monument’s construction. Grennell said he expects the monument will be ready before the end of this year.

The state’s share for the Natchez civil rights monument is included in the annual budget for the state Department of Finance and Administration. The bill was the subject of much heat that could’ve killed it Friday after lawmakers argued $2 million had been concealed for a controversial voucher program to pay parents public funds for the tuition of sending “special-need” children to private schools.

For the old Natchez College, the Legislature appropriated $400,000 for renovations. The now- closed college was founded in 1885 and is owned by the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Mississippi. The college educated black students for a century at its small North Union Street campus. Its two main buildings are now dilapidated. The Legislature in 2016 also allocated $400,000 bond funds for its restoration efforts. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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