Consolidation referendum in Diamondhead causing debate among city leaders

Consolidation referendum in Diamondhead causing debate among city leaders

DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. (WLOX) - When Diamondhead residents head to the polls in June, a referendum will appear on ballots and it is sparking debate in the small community.

Voters will decide if the city should consolidate the Diamondhead Fire District and the Diamondhead Water and Sewerage District into the operations of the city.

Some city leaders believe consolidating will cut costs. Mayor Nancy Depreo stressed that this isn’t a new idea, and that it has been discussed before.

“Residents, business owners, and developers often complain that they do not know who to call or where to go with their issue.  Residents also complain about the high cost to live in Diamondhead with multiple taxes and fees.  In addition, with four governing boards, each entity is making financial decisions separately without regard to what the other entities are doing,” stated a release from the City of Diamondhead.

Still, not everyone is on board.

Fire Chief Michael Munger grew up in the community and doesn’t believe consolidating is the best idea.

“As a long time resident and a 25 year member of the department, it just hurts my heart to think what it will do to this department and the effect it will have on our community,” said Munger.

Munger said consolidating will cause many firefighters to leave the community,

“If you take away the benefits and, specifically, the state retirement plan that the firemen are under right now, you’ll have the firemen leave and go to other jobs that are under state retirement,” said Munger.

If the two city services consolidate, it would limit the number of taxing authorities in the community. Instead of flat rates for a service, community members would pay based on their homes’ millage. Still, due to department and equipment expenses, Munger doesn’t believe consolidating will cut costs.

“The city is saying that they can save costs by cutting administration. There might be a minor amount you can save there but I think they’re missing some big things. One is these fire trucks. The fire district just purchased a truck last year with cash, we leased another one. That payment is something that is going to have to be paid,” said the fire chief.

The news release from the City of Diamondhead said city officials are looking at the bigger picture.

“With each entity taking on new debt separately without regard to the other public entities, our community may become unaffordable for many to live in which will ultimately impact our property values. This is troubling since the taxpayers will pay for this with potential increased taxes and fees.  It is not to say our community did not need new equipment, a fire truck, or infrastructure improvements; however, it is prudent to collectively consider the bigger picture when making these decisions. Consolidating resources would have eliminated some of the new debt,” stated the release.

The non-binding referendum will appear on the June 8th general election ballot. To read the full release in detail, click here.

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