Shortfall at Long Beach Harbor could cost workers their jobs

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Long Beach officials are trying to find out where money that was collected from boat slips at the Long Beach Harbor has gone. The shortfall could lead to cutting hours for harbor workers, or even jobs lost.

Long Beach Harbor had 190 boat slips leased before Hurricane Isaac slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast last August. Long Beach Harbor Master Bill Angley said the number of leased boat slips has dropped off drastically.

"We have 131, as of right now, leased," Angley said.

According to Long Beach officials, the leasing of boat slips is presently bringing in $57,000 every quarter. If you add the restaurant leases, that brings the total to about $75,000.

An employee at the harbor who wants to remain anonymous reached out to WLOX, saying, "There is a lot of stuff going on financially at the harbor. There is money missing, but cannot be accounted for."

Long Beach Port Commission Director Phil Kies said the Long Beach Harbor is running a deficit and port funds are being used to compensate for the losses.

"We went through $90,000 through our Port Fund and we still have $90,000 in the Port Fund roughly so we've gone through about 50 percent of it. We're not broke but we're getting real nervous when we're having to spend an additional $6,000 a month for money that's not coming in," Kies stated.

When the money is collected for the boat slips, where does it go?

"It goes direct to the billing office in City Hall; same people that take care of the water bills," stated Kies. "They automatically send a bill out every month. It's paid that way."

Kies said the Port Commission paid the city $32,000 for administrative services that include accounting and billing.

"Some of our financial reports that we get from the city are extremely difficult to understand and I've sat down with the comptroller, the mayor, clerk, everybody to find out how much money we had and which we didn't."

I talked with Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie who told me the shortfall is an accounting issue. He said no money was stolen.

In the meantime, harbor employees are concerned they could lose their jobs because of the shortfall.

"They will be cutting hours on city employees there. Once that happens that drops the employees down to part-time status. Anything under 32 hours is considered part-time, so benefits will be lost," the harbor employee told WLOX News. "That's their retirement, their medical, dental insurance, everything will be gone."

Kies said its premature to speculate on job cuts.

"Yeah, I can't really speak to that right now. We're still studying it. But certainly we have to make some changes financially."

Kies said the only way the harbor can make money is through boat slip leases and rental fees. As of now, he said the Long Beach Harbor is bringing in $24,000 every month, but spending $30,000.

"What I want to do is get back in the plus side," Kies said, "and that's going to take boats, simple as that. The only way we're going to get boats in there is when we get the construction taken care of. Get the piers repaired, the electrical repaired. All of that."

Long Beach Harbor has six full-time hourly workers, four part-time workers, along with Harbor Master Bill Angley, who is a salaried employee.

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