Harrison County

Biloxi won’t close a library, but budget cuts run deep

City officials had considered closing West Biloxi Library, one of four in the city. Biloxi head librarian Sharon Davis met with them during the workshop and several residents added their pleas.
City officials had considered closing West Biloxi Library, one of four in the city. Biloxi head librarian Sharon Davis met with them during the workshop and several residents added their pleas. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Biloxi residents rallied Tuesday to save the West Biloxi Library, but water and sewer rates are going up and employees will have to pay toward their health insurance as city officials keep searching for ways to slash the budget.

Fiscal year 2017-18 starts Oct. 1, and Biloxi already cut $2 million from the police and fire departments. Most of those cuts were for equipment and for vacant positions Biloxi can’t afford to fill right now, said Mike Leonard, chief of administration.

With insurance reserves dwindling, employees will be required, for the first times in many years, to pay $50 a month toward their own health insurance. They also pay $100 a month toward family coverage.

The mayor and council crunched numbers in an afternoon workshop and said pay raises aren’t in the budget for most employees. It’s possible that the Biloxi Council can still vote to raise taxes for the first time in more than 20 years, and that decision will come at a budget hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“The administration is not proposing any tax increase,” Leonard said.

City officials had considered closing West Biloxi Library, one of four in the city. Biloxi head librarian Sharon Davis met with them during the workshop and several residents added their pleas, and Leonard said, “Clearly it just wasn’t the place to go find money.”

Biloxi has contributed $695,000 a year to the Harrison County Library System, which requested Biloxi up that amount $34,750 next year, or 5 percent, to $730,000 to cover the shortfall from state cuts. Leonard said Biloxi will ask the county to chip in more funds.

The council also moved up scheduled rate increases in water and sewer rates by six months to cover cost shortages.

Under the plan, 78 percent of customers — those who use 5,000 gallons of water or less a month — will see no change in rates through 2019.

The 6 percent of customers who used 5,000 to 6,000 a month will see their water rates increase over the two years from $1.43 per 1,000 gallons to $1.58.

Rates for casinos and other large users of 25,000 gallons or more a month will go from the current $1.63 per month per 1,000 gallons to $1.80 over the two years.

The Harrison County Utility Authority surcharge on top of the city’s fee is $3.80 per 1,000 gallons for all customers.

Contributions to Harrison County Library System

This is what the cities and Harrison County paid in the 2017 fiscal year to operate th Harrison County libraries:

$875,000 Harrison County

$695,000 Biloxi

$365,000 Gulfport

$150,000 Pass Christian

$137,000 D’Iberville

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