• 57°

With so much to do and see, retiring in Natchez is … easy living

It’s more than just a sign on the highway. It had to be earned.

“A Certified Retirement City.”

Natchez is one of 21 in Mississippi to have passed a three-month screening process conducted by Hometown Mississippi Retirement.

Each city is judged on the cost of living, taxes, crime rates, medical care, recreation, educational and cultural opportunities and community spirit, officials said.

Roy Winkworth of the Natchez Retirement Partnership said he feels Natchez has a lot to offer to both newly arriving and existing retirees.

“Several elements such as recreation, health care, adult education and affordable housing make Natchez a great place to live for people who are retired,” Winkworth said.

Currently around 150 retirees from out of town are living in the area, Winkworth said.

Last year, he received 1,500 to 2,000 inquiries from retirees interested in moving to Natchez.

And an undetermined number of retirees have lived and worked in Natchez and decided to retire here as well.

One area with room for improvement in Natchez is housing, Winkworth said.

Although Natchez has a variety of houses, the thing most retirees are looking for is affordable housing, costing $100,000 to $200,000, or low maintenance condominiums, he said.

“Compared to the rest of the country, Natchez has some of the most affordable housing but the Victorian and antebellum houses downtown require almost constant maintenance,” Winkworth said. “That’s something retired folks don’t want to have to deal with.”

The Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism divisions lists the average cost of a house in Natchez at $76,750. The average cost of a new 2,000-square-foot brick home on a half-acre lot is $200,000.

Taxes on a $100,000 home with homestead exemption for someone under 65 at $1,085, but $347 for someone over 65.

Sabrena Bartley, executive director of the Natchez Senior Citizens Center agreed, Natchez needs more affordable housing for retirees.

She said she also would like to see more affordable assisted living apartments that afford residents more freedom than traditional nursing homes.

Economic Development Association board chairman Woody Allen said Natchez is such a desirable place for retired people because of a low crime rate.

“Natchez is a safe community where folks can walk just about anywhere and feel secure,” Allen said.

Internet crime statistics from 2003 and 2004 show a violent crime rate of 3.2 per 1,000 people. The majority of crimes are property crimes. And the town roughly averages about two murders a year.

Winkworth said health care is a major concern for retired persons looking to move to Natchez.

“What I tell folks interested in moving to Natchez is that we have adequate health care,” Winkworth said. “For those needing to schedule routine checkups and get their medication, Natchez is great, and if they need emergency care we are not far from Jackson, New Orleans or even Houston.”

Though the town has roughly 300 hospital beds, Bartley said seniors often struggle to find pharmaceutical needs.

“I think our medical community does well, but the challenge of medication is big for seniors,” Bartley said. “Medication is expensive, and there are stipulations for Medicaid. We need a program in place to assist seniors in paying out-of-pocket expenses for medications and help them pay for their medical plans.”

It’s in entertainment that Natchez shines most brightly, locals say, offering retirees year-round activities to choose from.

“A senior citizen was once viewed as someone who was going to be content sitting and doing needle point, and that’s not the case with senior citizens today. They’re an active, vital part of the community with wonderful life experiences.

“They don’t want to just sit down, so we have to meet those challenges. They want to be independent, they have to be independent,” Bartley said.

The Natchez Festival of Music is part of the arts attraction in the town, Founding Director David Blackburn said.

“What people want is a place to retire that has the arts,” Blackburn said.

Along with those who attend, many of the volunteers that help with the program are retired, he said.

Retirees are also a big part of the Natchez Little Theatre, Executive Director Layne Taylor said.

“Fifty percent, if not more, of our membership is above the age of 60,” Taylor said.

Retirees make up a good portion of the board of directors, volunteers and actors at the theater, he said.

“Retirees have options rather than sitting in front of a television,” Taylor said.

The theater also gives free performances of every show to area nursing home residents, he said.

“It gives them an opportunity to get out with their caregivers and family members for a lovely evening out,” he said.

Spring and Fall Pilgrimage, Art and Soul and the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration also provide activities as well as volunteer opportunities for retirees, Winkworth said.

Sixty-nine-year-old Ralph LeMay retired from the International Paper Company in 1999 and said he and his wife Carole enjoy Natchez for different reasons.

“I am an outdoor enthusiast and enjoy hunting and fishing, which Natchez and the surrounding area provide a lot of,” LeMay said. “My wife was a history major in college and Natchez is steeped in history so she’s happy here as well.”

The Senior Citizen Center, along with other organizations, provides opportunities to learn and do things, she said.

More than 600 seniors are involved at the Senior Citizen Center, which provides social, educational and health opportunities for seniors, Bartley said.

And that is just one of many organizations in the area that serves retirees.

Copiah-Lincoln Community College sponsors the Institute for Learning in Retirement. They organize activities like field trips to Broadway plays in Jackson and to see the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C.

The 100 members can participate in lectures, classes and other activities.

“I feel like Natchez offers so much for retirees to do, they kind of pick and chose what they participate in,” said Institute Coordinator Dee Ray.

All the program’s participants are retired, Ray said.

“They really seem to enjoy it,” she said. “They like to go, they don’t like to sit at home and do nothing. They don’t like to sit at home and get old. They like to go, go, go.”

Natchez has embraced its role as a retirement community. The programs are here, the services and the assistance, but the deciding factor for many retirees comes in the waves. People stop and say hello, Bartley said.

“One of the things I think makes us special is the relaxed, casual atmosphere,” said Sabrena Bartley, executive director of the Natchez Senior Citizens Center. “It’s not hustle and bustle like the city.”

Winkworth said the other citizens of Natchez also benefit from a retirement community.

“If you think about it, retirees bring in a lot of money to Natchez,” Winkworth said. “They shop for retail items such as food and clothes, they buy housing, when available, and some also generate revenue from getting part-time jobs.”

They don’t tax some public services like schools, he said.

On the Net:

Mississippi Development Authority tourism division, http://www.VisitMississippi.org