Biloxi fire chief worries additional employees won't be enough for cuts

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Tuesday, the Biloxi City Council is expected to try to override the mayor's veto on the budget. The mayor wants to put money allocated for a loan that he said has been paid off to the city's rainy day fund. City leaders said the rest of the budget has been agreed upon by the mayor and the city council, which means the city's fire and police department will be allowed to hire new employees.

Biloxi's new proposed budget allows for the fire department to hire three new firefighters and the police department to hire ten new officers. But the departments are still taking a hit. Fire Chief Joe Boney said his department is losing more than half a million dollars.

"We have a shortfall in overtime and we anticipate right now we will probably be able to work through most of the year, get through May or June of next year and then we are going to have issues with overtime," Boney said.

Right now, Boney said there are seven vacant positions in the department. By the time he is allowed to hire three people, Boney believes three to four more firefighters will have retired or left the department

"There is surely no end in sight right now for the amount of overtime we are spending until we can get these staffing levels back to where we need to be," Boney said.

The number of employees at the police department is also down. Chief John Miller said his department had 151 police officers before Katrina, that number has since dwindled to 116.

"I don't think we need the amount of policemen that we had before Katrina," Miller said. "We certainly learned to do things more efficiently and I don't think we will ever see those numbers again, but a few more police men certainly wouldn't hurt."

Chief Miller said he has already hired ten new police officers who have been added into next year's budget. He said the additional men will help insure Biloxi's residents are getting the protection they deserve.

While the fire chief agrees citizens are getting the protection they need he said the tight budget is costing residents.

"We will man the trucks, we will have the people on the trucks and we will provide the service," Boney said, "but it comes at a higher cost to them and that's where it's unfortunate."

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