Diamondhead set to vote in two weeks on consolidation referendum

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 8:10 AM CDT
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DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. (WLOX) - In just two weeks, residents of Diamondhead will head to the polls to vote on a referendum that would consolidate two major departments of the city.

The non-binding referendum on consolidating the Fire District and the Water and Sewer district into city operations has been a much-debated topic in Diamondhead over the last few months.

Both the fire and water and sewage districts are advocating against consolidation. The fire district’s argument centers around the potential loss of benefits, but the city believes that consolidating the services will save taxpayers money.

”The savings are going to be based on the reduction of duplicated services,” said Mayor Nancy DePreo. “Currently, we have four governing bodies in the City of Diamondhead, which means we have four general managers, four attorneys. Everything we have is four times what a normal city has.”

Water and sewage leaders believe that the city is doing this out of political motivation and feel consolidation will lessen the quality of service.

”This feels like a real governmental overreach driven by politics, and those things just have no business in something as critical as getting clean and safe drinking water to a person’s tap,” said John Kirschenbaum, who is chairman of the city’s Water and Sewer District.

Kirschenbaum believes the city isn’t prepared to handle the transition.

”There is no logistical plan from the city regarding execution,” he said. “We have a financial report based on antiquated data, questionable cuts, and it is risky to a 24 hour a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year service.”

Mayor Depreo believes this to be an exploratory phase, designed to get input from the residents and start conversations with the different districts on how this could work down the line.

Officials with the Fire District are concerned that consolidation won’t work unless they can continue to pick up public employee retirement benefits, known as P.E.R.S. for short.

”We haven’t started the planning part because we wanted to get the residents’ feedback on whether or not they want consolidation,” said DePreo. “We have reached out to P.E.R.S. for the fire department because it seems to be a big concern of their’s, and if it is, then we want to address it.”

The non-binding referendum is set to be voted on June 8. The water and sewage district has a town hall set for May 26 at 4pm in the city council chambers and are encouraging the public to attend to hear more about the issue.

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