New Ocean Springs budget includes layoffs

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - It's been a rough few weeks at city hall. The reduced Ocean Springs budget means 12 employees are losing their jobs, and seven full timers will become part time workers instead.

This is a day that city clerk Shelly Ferguson hoped would never come, as she continues to crunch the numbers.

"It's been very difficult making the decision to do layoffs, it's been a struggle," Ferguson said.  "We tried numerous other options, but when it came down to it, we had to do the layoffs."

One of the hardest hit departments is public works. Four employees are losing their jobs, and that's going to mean the looks of the city may suffer. Andre Kaufman is the longtime public works director.

"Well, the employees that we're losing are in the street department, that's the people that cut the grass, pick up the trash, and maintain drainage, and that represents about a 25% decrease in that department," Kaufman said.

While the city is not increasing its tax bill on citizens this year, people who live in Ocean Springs will be paying more on the tax bill. The reason why, the Ocean Springs school board decided to raise its millage rate, and that doesn't sit well with one Ocean Springs alderman, Matt McDonnell.

"State law requires that we adopt their budget as they present it," McDonnell said. "We questioned them, we asked them to consider not raising taxes, and also to consider if they're able to get windfall from the LNG money, that they give that money back to the citizens of Ocean Springs."

But there is good news in the budget. Millions of dollars are being spent on a new public safety building, a new sports complex and a pavilion for the recently completed tennis complex. Most of that money comes from grants and a 2% restaurant tax.

Because of budget shortfalls, city employees will, for the first time, have to pay 40 dollars a month for health insurance premiums for themselves.

City officials are hoping that if the economy turns around next year, some of the laid off employee can be re-hired. They also say that even with the layoffs, the city still has more employees now than before Katrina.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.