Pascagoula moving forward amid budget woes

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Most city officials will tell you creating a city budget isn't easy, but this year poses new troubles. Pascagoula is one of the many South Mississippi cities struggling with financial shortfalls while trying to draw out a budget.

"I've been doing city budgets for 20 years," said Pascagoula City Manager Kay Kell.  "This is the hardest."

The City Council has had one of several budget meetings so far this year.  Kell and Pascagoula's new mayor, Robbie Maxwell, said the economy is transforming this fiscal year into a delicate balancing act.  Sales tax revenue is down almost 20 percent in the city.  Other costs like insurance and retirement are increasing, putting extra strain on the city's finances.

"It's just like a household," Kell explained.  "When you've got all of those things that are going up and your revenue is not increasing, just like every individual is facing, cities are going through the same thing."

Pascagoula has a lot at stake this year.  Massive projects are underway, like the long-awaited waterfront development, lighting Beach Boulevard and extending the beach.

"We're going to get the projects done," Kell said.  "We're going to find a way to cut, and to cut things that won't hurt.  Because we don't want to go backwards."

They're also trying to avoid dreaded layoffs.

"Trying to balance all of those things without losing employees without losing projects, it's going to be fun," Kell said jokingly of the challenge ahead.

Kell and Maxwell said they'll have to drum up creative ways to generate revenue without raising taxes.  One they're considering is a solid waste collection fee increase.  Others could include increasing boat slip fees, building permit fees, or maybe even increasing your water bill.

"I don't want to frighten anyone, but some of the costs for maintaining the reverse osmosis plants are pretty expensive," Kell explained.  "When we borrowed the money from the state to build those, we had to agree that our rates had to cover the cost."

In Pascagoula, it's the City Manager's responsibility to consult with department heads and devise a budget.  The budget is presented to the city council for approval.

"We've been known to lock all our department heads in a room, and we've been awfully creative before to make the budget balance," Kay said confidently.

She and Maxwell said past city councils have made conservative decisions in the past, which has allowed the city enough extra cash to survive the economic downturn.  Maxwell said he's confident the city will continue to develop.

"We're determined to hand you a brand new Pascagoula in about four years," Maxwell said.

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