Harrison County

Biloxi’s new chief administrator will need to go after dollars and cents

Mike Leonard
Mike Leonard

Retired Marine Col. Michael Leonard was confirmed as the city’s next chief administrative officer Tuesday by a 6-1 vote of the City Council, and among his first duties will be to go after money owed to the city.

It’s been months since the state Legislature erroneously swept $1.4 million of Biloxi’s money from a Tidelands account into the general fund at the end of this year’s session, and Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said $873,273.85 is on the way to the city. The remaining $600,000 owed to Biloxi from the lease with Golden Nugget Casino will have to wait until the Legislature is back in session and can vote to release the remaining money, Gilich said he was told by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

City Attorney Gerald Blessey said Hosemann has worked with Biloxi to get the issue resolved. Beginning Oct. 1, Golden Nugget will split its payments into three checks to each of the property owners instead of sending one check to the state to be divided and distributed.

Gilich said Biloxi also will start collecting rent for the parking area between the Golden Nugget Casino and Margaritaville Resort. The city doesn’t have a contract on the land and hasn’t collected rent on the property since 2010.

“We will get it this year,” Gilich said, and he anticipates $205,000 in annual rent.

He also anticipates $205,000 from the sale of property the city owns south of the Magnolia Hotel on U.S. 90 in downtown Biloxi.

The Biloxi Shuckers have played at MGM Park for two season, but the state hasn’t paid Biloxi any of the the tourism-tax credit, Gilich said. He doesn’t know how much is owed, but Gilich said Biloxi will get 18.5 percent of the sales tax on all food, beverages and memorabilia at the stadium.

And FEMA still owes the city about $16 million in reimbursement for infrastructure work. Blessey said the city borrowed $11 million to repay the contractors and hasn’t repaid the loan yet.

“We’re not a finance company,” said Councilman George Lawrence, who added Biloxi’s tight budget is from people not paying what is owed.

The council tabled ratification of the budget and will hold a workshop on increasing pay and other budget items at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The city also upped the deposit for water service for the first time since 1991, from $50 to $170, after Public Works Director Billy Ray Allen said Biloxi is losing $7,000 a month from people not paying their final bills before moving.

Blessey will leave his position as city attorney Oct. 1, and Peter Abide will replace him. Leonard will start as CAO the same day at a salary of $105,000, the same salary as former CAO David Nichols.

Councilwoman Dixie Newman asked if the council could meet Leonard before confirming his appointment, but he did not attend the meeting.

President Robert Deming III was the only council member who voted against the appointment.

Gilich said he has known Leonard for 68 years. They played football together, he said, Gilich as center and Leonard as left guard, and they graduated from Notre Dame High School in Biloxi together in 1965.

“He’s a Biloxian,” Gilich said.