Biloxi's Proposed Budget Called "An Absolute Disaster" - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi's Proposed Budget Called "An Absolute Disaster"

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mike Fitzpatrick says the days of living like a fat cow in Biloxi are over. The Holloway administration presented a $615 million budget to the city council Tuesday that Fitzpatrick called "an absolute disaster."

More than $417,000 of the budget is FEMA money dedicated to rebuilding projects around the city. Because revenues are expected to be flat next year, Mayor Holloway is pushing for water, sewer and garbage collection fee increases. And that has some council members in crisis mode.

"If you take a look at this budget like I have, it's flat," said Fitzpatrick.

And a flat budget is troubling to the ward four councilman. Fitzpatrick is a former county comptroller who often does spread sheets to analyze Biloxi's financial situation.

"I hate to use the word, but this budget, as far as I'm concerned, is an absolute disaster," he told his fellow council members.

Mayor Holloway responded after the meeting by saying, "I don't think it's any kind of a disaster."

In fact, Holloway noted that for the 16th consecutive year, he presented the council a budget without a property tax increase in it. However, the mayor does say it's time to raise water and sewer rates to offset the city's rising wastewater costs.

"We haven't had an increase in our water and sewer rates in probably the last six years or so," said Holloway.

That's why Biloxi Chief Administrative Officer David Staehling told council, "We need to look at a rate adjustment there."

The introductory budget proposes no new capital projects. Instead, it only completes old projects. FEMA money covers some of those costs, city money covers the rest. In the past, Biloxi used general fund money to pay for capital projects. But, the talk inside city hall focused on taking out loans to pay for the old projects, because the fear was the general fund wouldn't have enough money readily available next year.

"We're at a point right now that there's absolutely no excess money in this budget anywhere," said Fitzpatrick.

Ward six councilman Ed Gemmill admitted, "It is a crisis mode to a certain extent. But we're still head and shoulders above the rest of our coast cities, and a lot of other cities of this size along the southeastern part of the United States. So I wouldn't say anything about doom and gloom about Biloxi."

Pay raises for city employees were not discussed at Tuesday's budget workshop. However, Biloxi's chief administrative officer said there should be enough room in the budget to approve employee raises.

The Biloxi Council will discuss the budget again next Tuesday. Local governments have until mid September to adopt next year's budget.

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