Biloxi mayor talks about progress, challenges and higher fees in State of City speech

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi Mayor AJ Holloway's State of the City message started off on an upbeat note.

"The state of our city remains strong, hopeful, and encouraging," the mayor said Monday.

He pointed to signs of progress everywhere, like new restaurants, hotels and Keesler housing units. Mayor Holloway says the city issued more than a quarter-billion dollars in permits over the last 12 months alone.

"For all the encouraging signs that we see throughout our city, I am far from satisfied at where we are in rebuilding," said Holloway.

The mayor said architects are working on plans for 58 city facilities, including five major historic restoration projects.

"The problem is, I want to see some of these facilities coming out of the ground, and I don't think I'm alone in that feeling. We need to get on with it," said the mayor.

The phrase "Let's get on with it" was peppered throughout his State of the City address before 650-people. His speech also focused on the sour economy. For instance, the mayor mentioned a hiring freeze and the potential impact of recent pay raises for city employees.

"I have warned in the past that the pay and benefits that have been put in place are going to lead to layoffs or tax increases," he said.

The mayor also talked about wanting to raise slip fees at the Small Craft Harbor and Point Cadet Marina. And he wants to charge more for water, sewer and garbage collection.

"Right now, the city of Biloxi charges $5.00 per month per household to pick up your garbage. We pay almost three times that amount to provide that service. We cannot continue in that fashion," Holloway said.

He said the city's water department is $4 million in the red.

"It's nice to have the lowest price, but it's more important to have the fairest," he said. "I realize that we're in an election year, and this is going to take some political backbone, but it's time to get on with it."

He ended his speech much the same as he started, with words of optimism that his city will get through the tough times.

"For years, some people have the mistaken belief that we were flush with cash, and that we were one of the richest cities in the country," said Holloway. "We are still healthy, not wealthy. The situation is far from bleak. The outlook is full of promise and opportunity."

The mayor says expect to see a massive $355 million infrastructure project this year to repair or rebuild streets, storm drains, lift stations and water wells.

Click here to read the mayor's entire speech.