Gulfport may eliminate jobs, raise water bills to offset budget

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport must eliminate 22 positions to cut costs and balance its budget.  However, Mayor George Schloegel says those cuts will not include sworn police officers or combat firefighters.  On Thursday afternoon, Schloegel unveiled his much anticipated $277 million budget proposal.

Because Gulfport is facing a nearly $8 million deficit, Mayor Schloegel asked all department head to trim their budgets by 10 percent.  While making his presentation, the mayor said everybody in Gulfport must tighten their belts just a bit to get the city out of its financial hole.

"We have to have some reductions," Schloegel emphasized.  But what can be trimmed?  His 59 page budget proposal spells out how he would cut city costs.

"Here's the bad news," said Schloegel, pulling out an easel with a large chart on it.  The chart said cut number one was titled job reductions.

The mayor recommended that Gulfport eliminate 22 of its 640 positions.  Six of those losses would be through attrition.  The other 16 through consolidation.

"Of these 16 jobs," he said, "after all the attrition, none, none, zero of sworn officers in the police department nor any combat firefighters" would be let go.

Public safety jobs may be safe, and their base salaries unchanged, but their benefits packages may be tweaked.  For instance, the mayor is recommending that holiday pay hours be cut to one-and-a-half times the normal rate.  They currently get twice the normal rate if they work on a holiday.  That could save the city $340,000.

Another savings could come from Gulfport's longevity pay.  Schloegel wants to freeze the $200 longevity pay bump employees get each year.  So, whatever a city worker got this year would be what they receive next year.  That would add up to a savings of about $100,000.

And every city employee may be asked to pay $80 a month for healthcare.  The mayor said he actually got that idea from several city employees.  If it's adopted, it cuts the city's healthcare costs by a half million dollars.

"Okay let's go to the second part, which is again bad news, but it's where we are," he told the crowd at his budget unveiling.

The second part of his plan hits the pocketbooks of anybody in the city who pays a water bill.  Schloegel thinks they have to go up.

"We haven't had an increase in water rates in a long time.  We have to have one this year," he said.  "It will amount to, on average, to $10.47 a month, worst case."

That would bump the average monthly water bill to $65. However, the mayor offset that increase with this budgetary promise.

"No ad valorem tax increase to the public," he said.

It's now up to the Gulfport City Council to study the mayor's budget proposal and make any changes to it.  The Fiscal Year 2010 budget must be approved by the city council by September 15, 2009.

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