Gulfport Presents 2001 Fiscal Budget

If you live in Gulfport there is a good chance either your taxes are going to be going up or you will be paying more for public utilities.

The city presented its 2001 fiscal year audit report Monday at a special meeting.

Although the audit details the city's entire budget most of tonights meeting was spent talking about Optech that's the private firm the city hired to handle public works.

The auditors say there's no way to rate Optech's level of service. The question is, is the city losing money?

"The way you measure that, this is a labor based contract, that's all it is, we provide the man power, now do they want to cut manpower, that's a question the city needs to ask. Last year they told us to increase man power, at their request we did, costs went up accordingly," Optech Manager Dough White said.

Optech only provides the personnel, materials and supplies come from the city. But, some of the council members say privatization isn't working, and it's costing the city money.

In 1998 the city controlled all public works departments, that's streets and drainage, utility, and water and sewer, and the total operating expenses were about 5 and a half million dollars. When Optech took over all of those services by fiscal year 2000, that number increased to seven point six million, and it continues to grow.

So the auditors recommend that the city form a committee to evaluate the criteria needed to properly asses the contract's performances. Just last week hundreds of people became upset because they say their water bills are too high. This report recommends even higher bills.

"You're probably going to take a rate increase in your water and sewer unless we come up with some novel ways of funding the water and sewer fund, also it talks about a property tax increase," council member Chuck Teston said.

There are more than 24,000 households that have accounts with Optech, and 5600 of those are delinquent. That represents 1 point seven million dollars the city doesn't have.

"Why aren't they able to hire enough people to enforce, I mean to cut off people delinquent in their collection," council member Jimmy Jenkins said.

Council member Billy Hewes put it, we're in for a long haul to get out of this.

The city will decide what changes will be made to the budget over the next few months.