Harrison County

Biloxi proposed budget cuts for police, fire departments

Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney
Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney

Councilman Kenny Glavan said several times Monday that next year’s city budget will be tight, but the city council and the public don’t know how much money the city has in the bank or what it will cost to run Biloxi in the next fiscal year.

“I have to have starting numbers,” Councilman George Lawrence said, referring to the beginning balance remaining when the budget year starts Oct. 1. After two budget meetings, the council has a breakdown of revenues for the $57.3 million budget — and now the police and fire budgets — but no balance, expenses or comparisons to prior years.

“At the next workshop you’ll have all that,” Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. That meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

New departments were added in this budget year and several new employees were hired.

“I’ve been very concerned about the increase in personnel and the department structure,” Glavan said. One of those new positions is a chief financial officer, who Glavan said was hired recently to provide more accurate financial information.

The proposed fire and police budgets will be cut by a total of about $900,000, with the largest chunk coming from administration.

Councilwoman Dixie Newman said, in her four years on council, the city has cut the departmental budgets by as much as 10-15 percent every year. She asked Fire Chief Joe Boney if he has enough money to continue to protect the community.

“It has not cut our ability to provide the services,” Boney said, but it has reduced money for facilities, such as Station 7 in Ward 6.

“These guys have been doing this for 15 years — living in a trailer,” Boney said. The best option is to purchase a new trailer for about $40,000, he said, use it for a year or until the city can build a new station, and then sell the trailer.

Biloxi also needs a fire training facility, a new pumper and a truck to fill air tanks, he said.

Gilich pointed out that 93.4 percent of the $14.2 million fire department budget will go for personnel. “That didn’t go down,” he said.

Boney and Police Chief John Miller said cuts to their budget have them looking for more grants for equipment and staff.

By the end of September, police officers will be fully equipped with body cameras, Miller said.

“That’s every officer will have a body camera,” he said. The body camera comes on automatically when the car door is opened, and he said because it is a cloud-based system, “There’s no tampering, there’s no tinkering” with the camera footage.

Miller put more money in the budget next year for active-shooter training, and he said, “The price of ammunition is going through the roof.” He’s also had requests from businesses in West Biloxi for bike patrol similar to that in downtown Biloxi.