Biloxi council debates budget cuts - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi council debates budget cuts

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Doug Walker – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - After weeks of heated debate, members of the Biloxi council and the mayor seem closer to an agreement about cutting the city's budget to erase a $4.5 million shortfall. Both sides agree something needs to be done. Just how to do it is still up in the air. 

Council members poured through the numbers Tuesday, but not before hearing from some worried employees. Lucy Brashier, the council clerk, spoke first before the council.  

"The longevity has been a real blessing, as has the insurance, and we realize that we're the only city that probably offers that for our families," Brashier said.  "If it has to be taken away, I would just personally request that it be phased in so it's not such a big hit on us."

Firefighters have their own suggestions about what to cut before reducing salaries and benefits.  Michelle Crowley is the Firefighters' Association President.  

"Garbage fees are not up to where they are supposed to be, sports activities are still free, water and sewer rates are not correct," Crowley said. "I've just seen petunias planted all over this city, thousands of dollars have been spent on them. Why are we spending this kind of money?" 

An hour long PowerPoint presentation by the administration followed, showing the city has some big financial holes to fill.  Council members then had their say. 

Ward 7 Councilman David Fayard said it was time to stop talking and start doing.  

"It's things you all need to start doing other that looking at," Fayard said.  "You all want us to do something, it's time for this administration to do something." 

Despite the comments, Mayor A.J. Holloway left in a good mood. 

"I think it's a very good meeting that we had today," Holloway said.  "I think we accomplished a lot and I'm looking forward to putting some things on the agenda for next week that the council can take some action on." 

Some of those compromise items include reducing longevity pay from the current $15 a month down to $10. That's higher than the original proposal of $6.  Health insurance deductibles would rise from $500 to $1000, but the premiums would still be paid by the city.

Council President Bill Stallworth feels it's a deal he can live with.  

"One of the things that we've said all along was that some of these measures were too extreme and without looking at the whole budget, we would not know where we were," Stallworth said. 

If  the council passes those two measures, it would save the city a little more than $800,000 a year. 

Other reductions will be achieved by using city crews to clean cemeteries, not allowing city vehicles to be driven home outside the city limits, and not providing uniforms for public works employees. The city may also start charging a fee for children's sports programs.   

The council is scheduled to vote on the budget cuts at next Tuesday's meeting.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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