Ocean Springs alderman: Show me the money

New Public Safety Center construction
New Public Safety Center construction
The current Ocean Springs Police Department, located downtown.
The current Ocean Springs Police Department, located downtown.

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Two years ago, the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen voted to spend $200,000 to renovate the downtown police station. That decision was made even though the building will close later this year when the new public safety complex opens on Highway 90, in the eastern part of the city.

Now, $150,000 of the original amount has been diverted to cover cost overruns on the new complex.

Alderman Matt McDonnell represents the downtown area.  He has questions about what happened.

"It wasn't authorized by the Board of Aldermen and that's really the only entity that can authorize it, so that's what has got me concerned. And I've talked with several of the other aldermen and they were unaware that the money got moved."

I spoke with Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran by telephone Monday. She basically told me I needed to talk to the city clerk. That she was the one who had moved the money. However, sources in city government tell me the mayor was involved in many discussions involving the transfer of the money to the new public safety center.

Shelly Ferguson is the city clerk.  She said the original $200,000 was lumped into one public safety construction account, and not specifically into a renovation fund for the downtown police station.

"So we used the 150 for all those additional expenses, and then we still have contingencies. So when the project is close to completion, we'll know if we still have $200,000."

Many people who live and work in downtown don't want to see the 24 hour police presence there go away.  One of them is Carol Mascarella, who lives at the Villa Maria retirement complex.

"I think it's very important. And when we need a police, we get one within a few minutes where, down the highway, it would take them with the traffic, it would take them about 10 minutes to get here," Mascarella said.  "We can get police right away now when we need one at the Villa."

Alderman McDonnnell agrees, saying that when the money was put into a single construction account, it usurped the will of the board to renovate the downtown station and keep it staffed around the clock.

We did talk with Mayor Moran again about the questions raised in our story. She denies ever giving approval for the transfer of the money, saying she does not have that authority as mayor.

Late Monday afternoon, Moran told WLOX News that after meeting with city officials, new sources of revenue have been found to replace the $150,000 that was transferred. That action will be taken up at the next Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.