Not filling vacancies, health insurance part of Biloxi budget debate

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Restoring the Biloxi lighthouse, installing historical markers, and relocating the D'Iberville statue. These projects fall under the budget for Biloxi's Community Development Department.

"We're operating on a shoestring in that department," said the Department Director Jerry Creel.

Creel was among the department heads who appeared before the Biloxi City Council Tuesday to field questions about their spending requests for next fiscal year.

"Does it take $4 million to run your budget?" Councilman George Lawrence asked Creel.

"I don't fluff my budget up. I try to make sure that we get what we need," Creel responded.

The council is trying to cut expenses from a proposed $67 million departmental and non-departmental expenditure budget.

"We're trying to cut the budget back to $9.9 million we're going to overspend.  So we got to find $9.9 million somewhere," said Lawrence.

"Basically, what we spent last year is what we presented to you this year.  Not a lot of room in there," said Biloxi Chief Administrative Officer David Staehling.

Council President Bill Stallworth suggested not funding the 35 positions that are currently vacant.  Most of them are administrative jobs.  He said the move could save the city about $1.6 million.

Another issue of contention is health insurance.  Right now, Biloxi city employees don't have to pay for coverage for themselves or their families.  The mayor wants employees to start paying a portion of their health insurance.  However, the council president disagrees.

Stallworth said city employees should get free check-ups to prevent serious health problems and higher costs down the line.

"As part of the requirement of us paying for their health insurance, we should require them to be a part of it, to go through that at least once a year.  It would save us a lot of money," said Stallworth.

The council will look at other money-saving measures when it continues the budget debate next Tuesday.

Mayor A.J. Holloway said he is also re-evaluating which employees should be allowed to take city vehicles home.  The Biloxi City Council must adopt a final budget by October first.

Here's one of the biggest factors in Biloxi's budget crunch. Numbers released by the city Tuesday show gaming revenues are down again. July gaming revenue was down $8.2 million from July 2008. Only June of this year topped June 2008. Every other month this year, gaming revenue in Biloxi was lower than the year before.

Click here to see the complete gaming revenue numbers from the City of Biloxi.

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