2008 State of the County Address
Presented By: Jackson County Supervisor John McKay,
2008 Board President
Good afternoon, it is my honor to be presenting the State of the County to the Pascagoula Rotary Club again. I was here four years ago, at the beginning of a new term in office for the Board of Supervisors to present this annual address. As fate would have it, I'm returning as President of the Board on the first year of a new term in office again.
It seems fitting to start this year's State of the County Address by talking for a moment about our new Board. If you were hearing for the first time that three new members were joining the Board it be would natural to think this Board would need some time to learn the lay of the land. That is not the case with our Board! Our new members are coming aboard with a wealth of County and government experience along with new ideas and perspectives.
Mr. Manly Barton returns to District 1 going into his third term like myself. He still faithfully serves the residents of east and central Jackson County but has also expanded his role through the years. We like to refer to Manly now as the "Connections Man." He is highly involved with Supervisors from around the State and has strong relationships in Washington D.C. For example, President George W. Bush frequently uses some of Manly's post-Katrina stories during his town hall meetings around the country. Few here today can boast the President of the United States quotes them, but Manly can. I'm proud to serve again with Mr. Barton for another four years.
Mr. Melton Harris now represents District 2 which is made up of Moss Point, part of Escatawpa and Pascagoula. I remember Melton well from our time working at Pascagoula Chevron Refinery. He was known throughout the refinery for his hard work and commitment. Despite being his first term in office, Melton is not a newcomer to County politics. He has been heavily involved in local elections for years from helping set up local voting precincts to advising local leaders on community needs. I welcome his new ideas and vision for District 2.
Mr. Mike Mangum is also a new face joining our Board but certainly not new to the people in District 3. Mike has represented the interest of District 3 for years as a Pascagoula City Councilman. The term "Freshman Supervisor" hardly seems fair to a person who has already been elected into office 12 years. Mike brings an insightful understanding of the relationship between the Supervisors and local city governments. This understanding will benefit all four municipalities along with the Board as we work together.
Mr. Tommy Brodnax might best be described as the "Come Back Kid." Tommy was selected by the people of District Four to once again represent their interest and views. He returns to the role of Supervisor with 14 years of previous Board experience. Tommy is known as a man of action and straight talk. Our Board has met three times since Tommy was sworn in but already he reminds me of a football player in mid-season form. Tommy is ready to tackle any issue and not afraid to take a few hits himself. But when the game is over, he will shake your hand, and get ready for the next game; or in our case, the next issue. Tommy is a lot like me. He wants to see things get done. My favorite saying and I believe Tommy will agree is, "DON'T TELL ME NO... TELL ME HOW!"
I look forward to working together with each of these men over the next four years and watching our County benefit from such a diverse range of knowledge of experience.
One of the first obligations for the Board's president each year is the State of County Address. I'll be focusing my time today on three areas:
- The County Finances
- Major Budgeted Projects for 2008
- Accomplishments in 2007
Let's start with the financial numbers that have shaped this year's budget. I know many residents' eyes glaze over when they even hear the phrase "financial numbers"... but before you start to yawn... remember these numbers are the backbone of all our projects and goals.
One of the most important numbers to look at is millage or to say it another way County taxes. The Board for the fifth straight year in a row didn't raise County wide tax and kept the millage rate at 53.5 mills. This graph shows the County's millage rate over the last 10 years.
Directly tied to the County's millage is the County's overall value. The County's Assessed Value in 2008 is more than $1.3 billion, and I stress the word billion. This in turn generates $1.1 million dollars for each mill. As you can see on the slide, the County's value increased roughly $163 million dollars for last year causing the same mill to be worth more in 2008.
When Manly and I came into office eight years ago, the County's debt payments consumed 20 percent of the budget. I'm proud to say we have cut our debt to nine percent while lowering the millage rate to 53.5. This hard work has resulted in the County earning a Double A bond rating.
Based on these numbers, in Sept. the Board approved an Operating Budget of almost $127 million for FY 2008. As you can see this is up from 2007, but still down from our 2006 budget, which included the first installments of Hurricane Katrina financial aid.
- Budget Breakdown
With these basic numbers in mind, I'd now like to breakdown the budget and highlight some of the projects and services those funds are providing for our residents. I'll start with three construction projects that I know this Rotary Club has deep interest in for the coming year. They are the construction of a new:
- County Services Complex
- Adult Detention Center
- Pascagoula Health Department.
A new County Service Complex was talked about for years before Hurricane Katrina but made a necessity after the storm flooded all of Downtown Pascagoula. The effects of which are still being felt by the County, we still have almost 100 employees working out of FEMA portable classrooms at the Fairgrounds. The complex took a huge step forward in 2007 when the County received an $8 million grant from HUD to make this new office complex possible. Mr. Barton's connections with the Governor played a large part in this.
The Board anticipates needing another $4 million dollars to construct a building that will be able to serve this County for the next 40 to 50 years. We feel it is just good math to get a $12 million building for spending $4 million. We plan on fitting this within our borrowing capacity.
Current plans call for this new Service Complex to go in Downtown Pascagoula just south of the current Courthouse and EOC buildings. A second possible site for the complex is at the Fairgrounds. The Board will soon discuss both options. Our Board has already met with an architect about our vision for this complex. Our County Dept. heads will start meeting with the architect while to discuss their needs. We hope to start the bid process on this new complex in Aug. 2008.
The second major project we are trying to finalize is the construction of new 540 bed Adult Detention Center. I feel confident most here in this room are familiar with this project but allow me just a moment to review some of the basics. As you may recall, the County purchased the Fair Elementary property several years ago for the sole purpose of building the new facility.
The current ADC was built over 30 years ago and can't handle its current demand. It is a serious situation where the safety of deputies, inmates and the community is at risk. It is also a situation being closely watched by the federal government.
Simply stated, a new facility is desperately needed. State statutes require the County's jail to be in the County seat, which of course, means Pascagoula. The state law requires that the County jail be located in the County seat - Pascagoula. After hearing concerns about locating the jail there, the County considered locating the jail elsewhere within Pascagoula and elsewhere within the County. We delayed the construction of the jail twice while we attempted legislation to consider other locations. Those attempts failed both times.
This construction project received permission from the Pascagoula City Council to proceed and the County finalized design and construction plans. The County was set to break ground in late 2007 until a last minute appeal of the City Council's decision was filed. We are now waiting on a Court date in early 2008. The County has invested three years of research and fact finding into this project and we feel very confident the courts will rule in our favor once all the information is presented and examined.
The new ADC's estimated cost is between $18 and $22 million dollars and will be totally paid for by citizens of Jackson County. We are going to try to accomplish all of our goals without having to increase taxes. But, I think we need to make the public aware that these types of expenditures may require a small tax increase at some point in time.
The third major project is the construction of a new Health Department Office in Pascagoula. The County was notified in Aug. 2007 it would receive a $4 million federal block grant from HUD for the project. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the original office on Hospital Street and made the building unusable.
Plans call for the new Health Dept. office to be built across the street from the County's Fairgrounds and lie adjacent to Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. The County has hired an architectural firm to design the new office and we hope to break ground in 2008.
Construction is just one part of this year's budgeted projects. Transportation as always is a major priority. No State of the County would be complete without previewing some of the Road Department's plans for 2008. Those plans call for more than 30 miles of road to be repaved and nine major road projects to be completed. For instance, the Old Spanish Trail project, which began two weeks ago, involves grinding down of two miles of existing roadway and rebuilding the road with new safer shoulders.
The County will also use "bond money" to replace eight bridges across the County. You can see the entire list on the screen right now. Bond funding will also be used for an additional ten major road projects. In just a moment I'll go over some of the Road Department's accomplishments in 2007.
But transportation along the Coast is more than just roads, we also have to remember the waterways. Many land lovers didn't know, Hurricane Katrina's storm surge dumped an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of silt in six of the County's most traveled and used bayous- Graveline, Chicot, Fort Bayou, St. Martin, Morton, and the Ocean Springs Harbor.
To restore these bayous and their navigable waterways, the County is about to begin a major dredging project for all six bayous. In fact, the Board just yesterday (Jan. 22) awarded the bids for all six bayous and dredging should begin within five weeks. The County will be reimbursed for the dredging work with FEMA public assist funds.
These projects are just an example of the type of work the County will be addressing with this year's budget. Another staple for any State of the County Address is a brief look backwards over the work from the previous year.
- 2007 Accomplishments
The most rewarding accomplishments are those with benefits extending beyond the project's end date. This certainly applies to the subject of "Economic Development" in Jackson County.
One of the County's biggest contributors to sustained development is our Jackson County Port Authority. In 2007, the Port Authority retained the title of "Mississippi's Largest Port" with more than 36 million tons of cargo passing through both the public and private terminals. The Port also continued its dock improvements in 07 with the construction of a raised water treatment system. This facility directly supports the large cold storage building the Port constructed in 2006.
The Board of Supervisors and the Port Authority successfully completed the first year of a 30-year lease with Gulf LNG Energy, LLC for the development of a Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal on the eastern tip of Bayou Casotte Channel. Gulf LNG secured all of the necessary federal, state and local permits and began the first phase of construction which is the dredging of the channel. Construction is expected to take 40 months and the terminal should begin operations in 2011. The County will be receiving its first construction lease payment of $233,000 in FY 2008. Taxes from the LNG also will be divided throughout all of the County's school systems.
Just a few miles west, the first new tenants for Singing River Island were announced in late 2007. Northrop Grumman will lease current buildings for office space. Over the summer of 2007, the U.S. Navy, as promised, completed all Katrina repairs. The infrastructure of roads, electrical and water service makes the island one of the prime pieces of real-estate on the Coast right now.
Staying with waterfront development...
Davis Bayou and Simmons Bayou, located just south of Ocean Springs, were dredged for the first time in 16 years by the County. Since its last dredging in 1990, the channel became shallow and difficult to navigate. The deepening was completed in March 2007, four years after beginning the permit process.
The dredging had an immediate impact for both local boat owners and researchers at the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. The improved channel gives greater access to Biloxi Bay and the Mississippi Sound. USM was also able to relocate its two largest research vessels back to the lab from Biloxi. The total cost for dredging Davis Bayou was $610,000.
It was another busy year for our Planning Department who issued permits for 493 new single-family residential houses. As we expected this number is down from 2006 but it shows how the construction market is starting to stabilize after Hurricane Katrina. Going into 2008, the Planning Department expects new homeowners to stay cautious about insurance rates, flood elevations and mortgage rates. On the business side, the Planning Department issued permits for 50 new commercial buildings in the County.
To accommodate this growth, our Road Department is in a never ending struggle to maintain, replace or build new roads. In 2007, our Road Department asphalt machine stayed hot laying down 39 miles of pavement. The County also installed 14 bridges and created two new roads.
A significant amount of these projects took place inside one of the County's four cities. Altogether the County invested $1.7 million dollars into city road improvement projects in 2007. These funds provided paving at several local schools, a dozen city roads, and five city bridges, like Bartlett Street in Pascagoula. Projects, like this, bring County tax dollars back into citizen's neighborhoods. Here is a breakdown down by city of how that $1.7 million dollars was spent.
- Pascagoula $662,000
- Moss Point $439,000
- Gautier $232,000
- Ocean Springs $442,000
Speaking of driving, the County also focused on another type of driving last year... driving a golf ball. One of the proudest days for the Board in 2007 came on Aug. 30 with the reopening of the "back- nine" at the County's Whispering Pines Golf Course in Hurley. All nine greens were completely dug up and reestablished as sand based putting surfaces. The tee boxes were either rebuilt or relocated to give golfers new angles and fairway approaches. The back nine now also features additional bunkers, water hazards and challenging pin placements. This $380,000 improvement project is on par with the redesign of the course's first nine holes four years ago.
The Board in 2007 took a major step forward to remove one of the most visible reminders of Katrina's damage. Katrina's flood waters pushed more than four feet of water through the courthouse. Since that time the Sheriff and his deputies have made do working out of mobile homes, trailers, and separated offices. In June 2007, the County's contractor began the tremendous task of restoring the Sheriff's Office.
I'm pleased to report that work is almost done with a completion date set for mid-April 2008. Crews are in the final stages of installing cabinets, phone lines, etc.
Another important accomplishment in 2007 also involves the Sheriff's Department. The temporary expansion of ADC housing wing began in Feb. 2007. The expansion will move around 150 inmates out of the main facility into a secondary building. The housing wing will hold women and low risk offenders. Primary construction work was completed in 2007 and ADC officials anticipate moving inmates into the new space in late February.