Harrison County

Biloxi avoids tax increase by slashing budget by millions

In a lighter moment at Tuesday’s Biloxi budget hearing, the department heads joke with Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. From left are Community Development Director Jerry Creel, Police Chief John Miller, Fire Chief Joe Boney, Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Bell, Director of Administration Kenneth McKeown, Chief Administrative Officer Mike Leonard and Gilich.
In a lighter moment at Tuesday’s Biloxi budget hearing, the department heads joke with Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. From left are Community Development Director Jerry Creel, Police Chief John Miller, Fire Chief Joe Boney, Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Bell, Director of Administration Kenneth McKeown, Chief Administrative Officer Mike Leonard and Gilich. meperez@sunherald.com

Biloxi There hasn’t been a tax increase in the 25 years since casinos opened in Biloxi and there won’t be one next year.

Going into Tuesday’s budget hearing for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, the administration and council slashed expenses by almost $3.1 million to avoid raising taxes.

Chief Administrative Officer Mike Leonard laid out the results of weeks of budget workshops, saying Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich believes the anticipated increase in property and sales tax from new development will allow the city to continue essential services without raising taxes.

It won’t come easy. Anticipated revenue is $57 million and expenditures are expected to top $58 million.

“We’re actually bare bones,” Gilich said, but with everyone’s support he said Biloxi will be great again this year.

New Councilman Nathan Barrett suggested that next year the city turns the budget process around to make sure the police, fire, public works and other departments in the city have the operating funds they need before the city contributes to museums and non-essential areas.

“I believe we need to fully fund our departments,” he said. Seventy percent of the budget cuts for the coming year are coming from the $1.6 million chopped from the police budget and nearly $400,000 from the fire department, Barrett said

“That worries me,” he said, especially on top of the $1 million cut from departments last year.

It’s important to know Biloxi is not taking police and public works staff off the street, Leonard said. The cuts are to unfilled positions and equipment purchases, he said, but he agreed the city can’t sustain cuts to the capital budgets.

Under the new budget, water and sewer rates were raised early so that revenue will cover the costs for the first time in 10 years, Leonard said. Also, employees will be required to contribute $50 a month toward their health insurance, and Leonard told the council, “That was a very tough decision I know you had to make.”

Along with the rundown of cuts being made, Leonard listed the projects that are coming to Biloxi in the next year:

▪  $3.5 million for a new fire station at Cedar Lake and a second new fire station in Woolmarket

▪  Drainage, water and sewer improvements in Woolmarket

▪  New pedestrian crossovers at MGM Park and the Small Craft Harbor

▪  Work on the new Keesler gate

▪  Restoration to the exterior of the Saenger Theater

▪  Completion of Causeway Park at Popp’s Ferry

▪  Design and right-of-way acquisition for Popp’s Ferry Extension, with work possibly starting in 2019

▪  Continued work on North Biloxi infrastructure through next year and start of contracts south of the railroad tracks

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