GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - In his last ever State of the City address, Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr spoke about the city's future with both optimism and caution.
First, Mayor Warr outlined the strides Gulfport has made in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster to hit our nation. Then he warned that the city must get ready now if it's to survive the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.
Gulfport mayor says construction should start next week on an $18 million dollar restoration of the city's small craft harbor. However, he says don't expect the city to take on many building projects in the future.
"Those projects that are already in motion will not be stopped," said Mayor Warr. "But those that are on future schedules that have not yet been contracted will be put off for now."
Warr's strategy to help Gulfport weather a struggling national economy also includes departmental budget cuts of $3.6 million and an immediate hiring freeze.
"Currently about 10 percent of the city's budgeted positions are vacant," Mayor Warr said. "Eventually we could get to 15 percent without affecting city services and save an additional $4 million this year."
The mayor says the moves are necessary because first quarter sales tax collections are down creating a $2.3 million shortfall and health care for city employees is expected to run $2 million over budget.
"Twice since I've been mayor, my administration has asked the city council to consider a change to our health insurance program for city employees. Twice, with great resistance from some members, the city council had denied our request. Tonight I'm asking the city council to get ready because we're going to come to you again in the next few weeks for a third time and this time the need is urgent."
Mayor Warr has announced he is not seeking re-election to focus on his family as he fights federal Katrina fraud charges. For now, he says he has a job to do.
"The pain I feel from having to walk away from her now is great, but I'm comforted by knowing that I gave Gulfport everything that I had," he said.
The mayor asked the City council members for their support in making necessary changes to help the city through the economic crisis. Ward one's Gary Holliman said the council is ready to sit down with the mayor for discussions.
"By it being affected across the nation, we are going to have to take some steps to preserve our city so we won't feel the crunch at this particular time," said Gary Holliman. "Hopefully over a period of time when we come out of this economic crunch we'll be able to move forward and we'll be ahead. "
The mayor also asked the council to adopt new zoning requirements that would make it easier for businesses to open in Gulfport.
Here are some of the 2008 accomplishments the mayor discussed:
- $46 million worth of construction projects were either completed or under construction.
- Violent crime down by 23 percent.
- 165 families received $50,000 HOMELINE grant for down payment assistance.
- Approved 1,800 affordable housing units.
- Accepted deed to 92-acre Veteran Affairs property