Harrison County

Biloxi bumps pay for three city directors to $80,000 during contentious meeting

Biloxi Council approved pay increases Tuesday for city department directors, from left, Cheryl Bell, director of parks and recreation, Billy Allen, director of public works, and Christy LeBatard, director of engineering. The three will collect salaries of $80,000 a year.
Biloxi Council approved pay increases Tuesday for city department directors, from left, Cheryl Bell, director of parks and recreation, Billy Allen, director of public works, and Christy LeBatard, director of engineering. The three will collect salaries of $80,000 a year. Sun Herald

Three city directors got a bump in pay Tuesday after a contentious discussion by the Biloxi City Council.

Billy Allen, director of public works, Cheryl Bell, director of parks and recreation, and Christy LeBatard, director of engineering, will now each receive a salary of $80,000 a year.

“This represents about a 4 percent increase,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.

It’s a larger increase for Bell. A 4 percent increase would bring her salary to $77,000, which is what the administration requested.

Councilman Paul Tisdale asked if the city could afford to increase all three department heads to $80,000, calling it “very petty if we are going to pay all directors $80,000 except one.”

Councilman George Lawrence asked why the pay increases weren’t brought up at the recent budget hearing, when he said he had asked for a 3 percent raise for all city employees.

“My problem is we’re not taking care of the people who are doing a lot of the work,” Lawrence said.

The city can’t afford to give a 3 percent raise to all employees, Gilich said. The last raise for all hourly employees was in 2015, although some have received an increase since then.

Gilich said he thinks all employees are treated fairly. The directors work long hours and don’t get overtime pay.

“They’re deserving of it, and that’s my position,” the mayor said.

“I hate to say this but George is right in a sense,” Councilman Robert Deming III said in support of Lawrence.

Deming said when the administration talks about paying staff more so they don’t leave, he doesn’t want to make a distinction between hourly and salary employees. Biloxi shouldn’t give a raise to the highest paid, Deming said, when the city can’t give a raise to all employees.

Deming was out of the room when the vote was taken on the pay raises. Lawrence was the only council member to vote against the raises.

Council President Kenny Glavan objected to the way the raises were put on the agenda.

“We didn’t say we were going to raise the directors’ pay or anyone else’s pay,” he said. For future raises, Glavan said, it would be nice for the council to be part of the process.

Councilman Felix Gines said the city should take a good look at all employee pay before the next budget and bring those who are paid lower up to the equivalent of what others in the state are being paid.

Lobbyist hired

Earlier in the meeting Lawrence, along with Deming, voted against hiring Key Impact Strategies and B. Keith Heard to lobby for Biloxi in Jackson and Washington, D.C.

Lawrence said the $10,000 per month fee is too high.

Heard and the company weren’t registered as lobbyists in Jackson, but Gilich said Heard has since registered with the Secretary of State’s office and paid a fine for previously working as a lobbyist for Biloxi without registering.

Tisdale said Biloxi needs someone at the table when decisions are being made on how to spend BP money and other funds.

Biloxi doesn’t have the money for a park in Woolmarket or many of the projects on the wish list without taking out a bond or getting a grant, said Councilman Nathan Barrett. “I agree that we need someone at the table to go after these funds,” he said.

Biloxi Council says city needs the revenue, cuts requests for property tax incentives from 100 percent requested to 50 percent.

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