Harrison County

Biloxi police, fire could see almost $2 million in budget cuts, officials say

Biloxi police and firefighters and other emergency personnel gather around the scene of a bus-train accident earlier this year in Biloxi. The Biloxi Council reviewed the emergency services’ budgets on Tuesday.
Biloxi police and firefighters and other emergency personnel gather around the scene of a bus-train accident earlier this year in Biloxi. The Biloxi Council reviewed the emergency services’ budgets on Tuesday. Sun Herald File

The Biloxi Police Department may have to operate on $1.4 million less next year and the Biloxi Fire Department faces cuts of $368,000, officials said Tuesday at a city budget workshop.

These cuts come on top of the $1 million the city trimmed for emergency services last year.

“We’ve got some hard, hard decisions to make,” Councilman Kenny Glavan said.

The council looked at expenses for every department and also asked how long it’s been since the city raised taxes.

“You’d have to go back more than 25 years to see the last time Biloxi raised its city property tax rate,” said Vincent Creel, public affairs director.

That was when the first casino opened in Biloxi and began paying millions in casino revenue along with property taxes. Four moderate tax cuts were made in 1995 through 1999 before the tax rate was cut in half in 2000 and cut again in 2001, former Mayor A.J. Holloway said in August 2010.

“I think you can see the impact of this budget on the departments,” said Chief Administrative Officer Mike Leonard.

The total departmental budgets for police, fire, community development, legal, engineering and parks and recreation are down $2.8 million from last year, he said.

With the police department facing by far the deepest cut, Councilman Nathan Barrett asked Police Chief John Miller if he can manage with that much less funding.

Most of that money is for equipment purchases, Miller said, so the department can get by with less. But he also said the biggest event in the city used to be Mardi Gras and now there are much bigger events, such as spring break. “They’re very taxing on personnel,” he said.

The money crunch comes in part because in four out of the last six years, the city spent more than it received in revenue, said Council President Paul Tisdale. This year the city’s expenses are expected to be almost $2 million more than revenue, he said.

Biloxi is expected to start the year with a balance of $4.6 million. Revenue for the next year that starts Oct. 1 is anticipated at $56 million. As it stands now, expenses are projected to total $59 million.

Some of the solutions to even out revenues and expenditures were:

▪ adding anticipated revenue from FEMA and other sources to the budget

▪ eliminating 20 vacant positions to possibly save $500,000

▪ closing the Pass Road library

▪ asking the Coast Coliseum to pay for police support during events like spring break that are held at the Coliseum.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 12.

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