No increases in water and sewer rates are anticipated as the fiscal year begins and the tight budget was given a boost with $673,000 in “found money.”
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, outgoing city attorney Gerald Blessey announced that a year ago the city overpaid the Harrison County Utility Authority by $396,000. Blessey said Biloxi will ask the HCUA to credit the city’s obligation for next year by that amount.
"It will help the water/sewer fund, which you know is pretty tight," Blessey told the Council.
The HCUA also has $277,000 budgeted for water and sewer projects in Biloxi, and Blessey said it turns out the city has $350,000 in reserve for replacement and repair costs.
"It's Biloxi’s money, not shared with anyone else," Blessey said, referring to how each municipality in the county contributes to the HCUA.
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said the HCUA is planning to refinance its debt at the end of the year, which should save all the cities money.
In other action, the council on Tuesday unanimously approved Peter Abide as the new city attorney and director of the legal department, replacing Blessey, who resigned as city attorney, effective at the end of the month. Like Blessey, Abide will not be a city employee and he will earn the same hourly rates.
The council also agreed to continue using the Gerald Blessey Law Firm as special counsel for the city to provide legal services for issues such as tidelands, state and federal grants, state and federal legislation, strategic planning, economic development, Gulf Coast Broadband Initiative, high-tech business incubation and waterfront development.
Abide is with the Currie Johnson & Myers Law Firm. Although he won’t be working at city hall as Blessey did, he told the council he will keep the two offices as conference and work space.
The council also hired Page Mannino Peresich & McDermott to serve as the bond attorneys for the refinancing of port bonds. The bond is paid by a quarter mil of county tax and is used for improvements at the city port.
The law firm was the low bidder for the work at $22,500, which Blessey said is a good price. The city went to a bid process to trim legal costs and Blessey said, “Having the competition is working.”