Ocean Springs alderman: Board hasn't talked about how to pay $437,000 settlement

Ocean Springs alderman: Board hasn't talked about how to pay $437,000 settlement

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Ocean Springs may only have a couple of options to pay the nearly half a million dollar settlement with the Psycamore clinic. At least that's what Alderman Jerry Dalgo believes.

The Psycamore Psychiatric Clinic opened in Biloxi after Ocean Springs denied a request for it to operate at a location in that city, despite having the proper zoning. The United States Department of Justice ruled what the city's actions as discrimination.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with mental illness from discrimination and mental health facilities are protected from discrimination based on the disabilities of the people they serve," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to combating the stigma of mental illness, promoting greater community awareness and protecting the rights of persons living with mental illness as well as the persons and entities who serve them."

Ocean Springs agreed to pay clinic owner Dr. Sudhaka Madakasira $437,500.

"The last time we met during the last board meeting all we discussed was whether to accept the settlement offer. This was a dollar amount recommended by the Department of Justice. Not Psycamore or the city of Ocean Springs," Dalgo said. "It was an amount the DOJ arrived at based on their investigation."

Dr. Madakasira's attorney Billy Guice said of his client, "I believe him to be pleased. As in all settlements there is some give and take. It was very important to my client that that event not happen again to those who are similarly situated."

Dalgo said the board has agreed to pay Psycamore, but that's all that's been agreed upon so far.

"We have not had any discussions as a group on that issue, but there are only a few possibilities. One would be to pay it from the reserve fund the city maintains," said Dalgo. "We could borrow the money which would result in a debt service millage increase resulting in a property tax increase. Or we could further reduce the budget which is highly unlikely since two-thirds of our budget goes to payroll, and the budget has already been significantly cut."

Dalgo estimates the reserve fund has about $700,000, which he said took years to build He said paying Psycamore $437,500 from that fund would be a bit hit, especially when the city is facing is a second lawsuit connected to the Psycamore case that has not been resolved.

Roger Applewhite, who owns the property on Iberville Drive where Psycamore was originally proposed, has a lawsuit pending against Ocean Springs for $405,000. Ocean Springs officials said on Tuesday the city has filed a motion to dismiss and hopes to get a ruling within the next 90-120 days.

The Psycamore clinic does have the option of returning to Ocean Springs. Attorney Billy Guice said the owner of the clinic has not yet decided if he'll relocate to Ocean Springs.

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