Gautier considers tax hike to slow police, firefighter exodus

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Gautier residents could be paying more in property taxes to keep their police officers and firefighters from leaving for better paying jobs. On Tuesday, the council will vote on the final budget which includes a tax increase of 2.44 mills. Officials said that would generate $285,367.

Gautier officials said a new fire station is going up on Brown Road so as not to jeopardize the city's fire rating of six. If the rating goes up, so do homeowners insurance premiums.

"We have to have a fire station within five miles of every structure within the city limits," Mayor Gordon Gollott said. "By putting this fire station here, we will meet that requirement and continue with the fire rating that we have today."

The station is scheduled to open before end of the year will need between six and nine firefighters to staff it. To pay for that additional manpower, Gautier is looking at a property tax increase that would amount to about $24.40 a year for a $100,000 home.

The tax increase is also about helping Gautier hang on to the firefighters and police officers it has by giving some of them raises.

"That will result in us maintaining our employment level in that area. Sort of slow down the exodus out of our city into other areas," said Mayor Gollott. "Because we have firefighters and policemen who have been with us for three and four years and haven't gotten any kind of raise."

Some Gautier residents said they're not thrilled about higher taxes, but they understand the importance of supporting public safety.

"They sacrifice every day their lives. They go out and they save all of us," Gautier Resident Brianna Whistler said. "I would be willing to sit there and pay a higher tax so they could get a higher pay."

"There's a lot of things Gautier needs, especially with the fire departments, the police departments," said resident Rich Crager. "If you don't make the sacrifices, you don't get the goods in the end."

The mayor said the city is hoping once the station is open and manned to get the fire rating down to a five. The insurance would decrease between six to twelve percent and offset some of the expense of the property tax increase.

The mayor said other changes are on the horizon.

"We are implementing an ionization plant here between now and the end of the year, which will improve the clarity of the water in our city. We're doing that without an increase in the rates," Mayor Gollott said. "Also in the water and sewer program, we're going to implement a program to put in automated water meters. That will insure we have everybody getting the proper amount of water and everything is correct. We expect that will lower our water rates to be comparative to other cities."

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