Harrison County

Biloxi casinos, businesses will pay 53 percent more for utilities under mayor's plan

BILOXI -- Proposed water and sewer rates for casinos and other top users in the city will jump 54 percent over the next five years under a plan proposed by Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich.

Rates for seniors and the 89 percent of customers who use less than 8,000 gallons of water a month will stay where they are through 2020.

The magic number is $72. Those whose current bill is less than that a month won't see an increase under the plan.

Residential garbage rates also will remain at $10.

"There are no plans to increase the garbage rates at this time," said Vincent Creel, the city's public affairs director.

About 11 percent of the utility customers who use more than 8,000 gallons, such as large families, condo and apartment buildings on one meter and businesses, will pay more each year.

If approved by the council, water rates for those customers will increase 21 cents for each thousand gallons this year and another 12 cents, 13 cents, 14 cents and 15 cents over the following four years.

Sewer rates would increase by 43 cents for each thousand gallons this year and by an additional 25 cents, 26 cents, 29 cents and 30 cents over the next years.

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The increase would generate $622,000 in the first year.

"We've got to do something," said Councilman Paul Tisdale.

For years Biloxi has subsidized the water and sewer fund -- an enterprise fund whose expenses are required to be covered by rates and fees.

A workshop will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday and the first reading for the increase is scheduled during the regular council meeting at 6 p.m.

Councilman Kenny Glavan said the plan may need more careful consideration before a vote.

"For hotels, restaurants, casinos, that's a big expense," he said, especially when most of these businesses already have their budgets in place for 2016. Glavan manages a hotel in the city.

The largest casinos use about 11 million gallons of water and pay nearly $100,000 each month. Casinos, the hospital and other large businesses will take a big hit with a 15 percent increase the first year and 54 percent over five years. The increase on $100,000 would be $15,000 a month or $180,000 the first year and $54,000 a month and $648,000 a year by 2020.

"We think it's the fair thing to do," said Creel. The high end users also are more expensive for the city to service, he said, since it costs more to get water to the top of 30-story hotel than to a home.

Gilich said even with the increase, Biloxi will have the lowest or near lowest rates in South Mississippi.

Glavan said the businesses that will pay these higher rates also are the largest taxpayers in the city. Biloxi is working to reduce its fire rating, which in turn would provide a significant decrease in insurance rates, he said. It also would help promote business confidence, he said.

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