Natchez receives bonus check from casino
from Staff Reports - NEWS
March 6, 2017 - ListenUpYall.com
By John Mott Coffey
NATCHEZ, Miss. – Magnolia Bluffs Casino gave Natchez an extra $400,000 Friday for leasing city-owned land.
The casino occupies the property by the Mississippi River and pays the city at least $1 million a year to lease it. However, it must pay more based on the casino’s revenue growth. Magnolia Bluffs owner Kevin Preston handed Mayor Darrell Grennell a lease-payment check Friday.
Preston also provided the mayor and Board of Aldermen statistics showing how the casino’s business has grown since its December 2012 opening. For example, the number of employees has grown the past four years from about 230 to 280 (238 full-time) and local purchases by the casino have risen from $1.4 million to $4.5 million.
“We’re excited about the future, and we want to do everything we can to help Natchez grow,” Preston said.
“We appreciate your investment in the community,” Grennell told Preston.
They casino revenues Natchez gets have consistently been a financial lifebuoy the past four years as city officials grappled with cash shortages, overspending and inaccurate bookkeeping. The money has been used to pay for new street pavements and to plug up deficits when other city revenues have fallen short.
It was uncertain Friday how the Board of Aldermen plans to use the $400,000 casino windfall. The board and mayor were planning to discuss revisions for the city’s $30 million annual budget during their Friday meeting. However, they kicked the public out to discuss leasing the old Martin school gym to the YMCA and then recessed their meeting to eat lunch.
Natchez-Adams School Superintendent Fred Butcher said it’s uncertain how to pay for the multimillion-dollar construction program being planned for the city’s aging public schools.
Preliminary costs have been projected to be at least $47 million, but a firmer amount will be made after school officials next week finish the community meetings they’ve been holding since February, Butcher said.
After assessing the public responses, Butcher said he and the Natchez-Adams School District board will finalize a construction plan and come up with ways to pay for it.
“We’re not asking for a blank check. We’re just asking for your consideration,” he told Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and the Board of Aldermen at their meeting Friday.
It’s uncertain if a tax increase will be called for, if money will be borrowed through bonds or if a public referendum will be held to approve this. Butcher did note that two special tax levies to pay off past bond issues will be taken off the books in the next 12 to 18 months after the debts are satisfied.
The average age of Natchez-Adams County’s nine public school buildings is 56 years, according to NASD officials.
Preliminary plans call for building a new Natchez High School for about $23 million. The old NHS could be renovated for an estimated $17 million to house lower grades. Other schools would be renovated and modernized.
Two schools – Frazier and Robert Lewis – are considered so structurally unsound school leaders say they should be abandoned. However -- after complaints about closing the schools – estimates were made that it would cost about $9 million to renovate Frazier and $18 million to renovate Lewis.
Butcher said the worn-out conditions of all NASD schools are a deterrent to hiring and retaining good teachers to help improve the education of the 3,000 students. Their poor performance on Mississippi assessment tests has resulted in the Natchez-Adams school system making an ‘F’ on its 2016 report card from the state Department of Education.