BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi needs to put more firefighters and public works employees to work, but right now when it comes to hiring the budget numbers don't work. That has some council members having second thoughts about tax abatements.
Biloxi's public works director and Biloxi city's fire chief said they have equipment that is old and constantly breaking down and both departments are understaffed. Public works is down 10 employees. The fire department is down eight. Currently, the amount budgeted for new hires in those departments is zero.
"What they did is they didn't put any money to hire any new people and my concern with public works is that they are already low numbers of people they have working for them," said George Lawrence, council member. "Public works, we use a lot. The problem is with the trash, the ditches, the drainage, sewer. They do that kind of work. I have a problem with that, but it's not funded. So if we want to add people we are going to have to fund it."
City leaders said tough budget decisions have them thinking about recent multi-year property tax breaks the city gave to several businesses. Some of the abatements were for as much as 100 percent.
"Well a lot of them got tax abatements. So that's a lot of revenue that you're not going to get," Lawrence said. "That was my thing when we started that earlier in the year, is when you do that even if you only do that at 80 percent, you're only colleting 20 percent of the additional money."
Council member Paul Tisdale said, "We may want to think about how we approach abatements from here on out. I tend to have evolved into they're either 'Please come to Biloxi' or 'Thank you. You're already here we appreciate you doing business here'. But if you are already here then I don't know why you should qualify for an abatement."
Some city leaders said it's about finding a balance.
"The tax abatements have a place. The ordinance is in place. It's an incentive to bring new business here in areas that need development," Council member Kenny Glavan said, "I think the question is where are the hot spots and do they really need the big incentives to come and relocate their business and I think that's what we'll debate for the months to come."
The city must figure out how not to spend more than the $64 million in projected revenue.