Harrison County

Biloxi wants to borrow money to fix roads, improve drainage. How much is enough?

They started at $14 million for a bond to pay for drainage, paving and dozens of other projects throughout the city and by the time Tuesday’s workshop was over, the council said it is clear that isn’t enough money to tackle the most pressing needs in Biloxi.

Biloxi has a massive $365 million FEMA infrastructure project under way in parts of the city that went under water during Hurricane Katrina. Many roads and buildings that need work are outside that area, and Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich says there is no way to know if or when BP money and other funds and grants might come to Biloxi.

If the city needs to do projects, “this is the way to get it done,” he told the council.

Long lists

The administration’s list includes $2 million to restore the exterior of the historic Saenger Theater, which is closed until repairs can be made. It also provides matching funds to fix the dangerous Main Street railroad crossing, repair the Cedar Lake bridge and to start buying property for the Popp’s Ferry road extension to U.S. 90.

For the first time the bond issue sets aside $3 million for road and infrastructure repairs in all 7 wards, “until we run out of money,” said Mike Leonard, chief administrative officer.

Just one project — like replacing a Pine Grove Avenue drainage line or repairing the swimming pools and fence at the Donal Snyder Community Center — could quickly put a big dent in that $3 million, and every area of the city has drainage and paving needs, the council members said.

Councilman Nathan Barrett said much of the bond issue already is directed to Ward 7 to correct drainage problems in Woolmarket and provide matching funds for sidewalks.

“I am in support of the bond,” he said, but he also told the council he feels strongly the money should be used for priority needs and not amenities.

“I like the idea of being aggressive and investing back into the community,” said Councilman Felix Gines. “We’ve been through a lot,” he said of his ward, which has endured years of muddy roads and other quality of life issues during the infrastructure project. Once the area had three recreation centers, “and now we have none,” he said. Ward 2 also needs a grocery store, he said, lighting on Division Street and a solution for the homeless. He estimated those project at about $3 million.

Slow down or speed up?

Mayor Gilich urged the council to vote Tuesday to advertise the city’s intent to issue a bond.

“The longer you wait the more it costs,” he said, and interest rates could rise in that time.

The council instead asked the administration to estimate the cost of the council wish list. A second workshop was called for 4 p.m. on Nov. 6, ahead of a vote at the 6 p.m. meeting that night.

The process takes about three months from the vote until the bonds are issued and Leonard said, “It takes 2-3 years to spend the bond.” This will likely be the last bond the current supervisors will approve, he said.

Biloxi has about $43 million in general bonds, along with $24 million in tax increment financing, or TIF bonds, that Leonard said aren’t factored into the 15 percent cap on revenue that is used to calculate the amount of bonds a city can issue.

A $14 million bond would put the city at about 60 percent of its bonding capacity, he said. Any more than that, and Biloxi would have to increase the amount of millage needed to pay the balance, requiring that money to come from another place in the budget.