Harrison County

Biloxi moves toward providing the same services for both city museums

The Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum and Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art are different, but on Tuesday the Biloxi Council agreed to treat them more equally.

The agreements try to find some parity in the kinds of services the city provides to its museums, said Mike Leonard, chief administrative officer for the city.

Biloxi pays the insurance on both buildings, as it does for all city-owned buildings. “We own it, we insure it,” Leonard said.

What’s changed is the Ohr Museum now will receive a $48,000 annual management agreement from the city similar to what he said the Seafood Museum has collected for years.

Another big change is the city agreed to again pay the utilities at both museums. Due to the high cost of electric service at the Ohr Museum, the Biloxi Council voted a few years ago to pay only up to $54,000 a year for utilities. Under this agreement, the city’s cost will likely double, Leonard said.

To make both museums more energy efficient, the city has asked Lamey Electric in Biloxi to do an energy audit of both museums to see how much money could be saved with energy-efficient lights.

Each museum pays its own employees, but until now only the Seafood Museum employees could pay for medical insurance through the city’s policy. On the other hand, Biloxi was paying for a security officer at the Ohr Museum but not the Seafood Museum. Leonard said that person was reassigned to an open position elsewhere in the city and the city no longer pays for a guard.

Councilman George Lawrence said he wanted to see an audit of the Ohr Museum before he approved any agreement.

Jeffrey O’Keefe, representing the Ohr Museum, presented Lawrence with the last audit from 2015 and said the museum would be willing to change its fiscal year to match the city’s calendar.

“We get the Seafood Museum audit because we pay for it,” Leonard told Lawrence. The Ohr Museum pays for its own, he said.

The Seafood Museum also gets money from the city for advertising Biloxi’s logo on the schooner sails and for Sea and Sail Camp, something the Ohr Museum doesn’t have.

To bring in more visitors, O’Keefe said they hope to soon reopen the Ohr museum’s welcome center that’s been closed for nearly a year due to a fire, and plan to begin work on the second pod designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry in a matter of weeks.

Leonard said he’s also looking into the operation of the Mardi Gras Museum in the Magnolia Hotel, another city-owned building.

Also at the meeting:

▪  The council approved a matching grant for a digital tour and map of the Old Biloxi Cemetery. Bill Raymond, Biloxi historical administrator, said the first phase will create a digital map that visitors can scan with their smartphone and use to locate a grave or follow a tour.

▪  Leonard pinned Biloxi Police Chief John Miller with two more stars, making him a four-star chief like other departments on the Coast.

▪  Leonard reported that garbage rates will rise to $14.33 monthly, up from $12.50, because of a new contract with the Harrison County Utility Authority. Residents will get once a week garbage collection and a much larger and wheeled recycle container. If the council didn’t approve the increase, the city would have had to pay an additional $26,000 a month for garbage collection.

▪  Had the first reading on water and sewer rates, which are scheduled to be approved at the next meeting on Sept. 3.