Harrison County

No tax increase in Biloxi this year, but several budget cuts

Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich
Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich SUN HERALD

With an election coming in the spring, Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said it’s safe to say there won’t be any tax increase in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, but finances will be tight.

On Tuesday, the police and fire departments cut about $800,000 from their budgets. On Thursday, Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Bell said she reduced her budget by $216,000, mostly by cutting 20 temporary workers.

“This is summer help,” Bell said, and she told the city council these positions should have been cut a little each year based on reduced summer camp attendance.

The Community Development budget will increase by about $198,000 next year because the utility bills and maintenance for the Biloxi Civic Center were moved from Parks and Recreation to his department, said director Jerry Creel.

Despite the cuts, “Biloxi’s not broke,” Gilich said. He expects a beginning balance of $5 million when the new budget year begins, although he hasn’t presented all the numbers yet.

Gilich said he isn’t sure yet whether water, sewer and garbage rates will need to increase to cover costs, as required by law.

“I did the budget a little differently this year,” he said, showing spreadsheets detailing how much money was spent by department. A special meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to continue reviewing spending in each department.

“This will be complete hopefully by the end of Tuesday’s workshop,” he said.

The city had large expenses this past year, including creating a new engineering department after the contract and money ran out for HNTB to oversee the city’s $355 million infrastructure program.

Biloxi paid HNTB in full but hasn’t been reimbursed yet by the federal and state emergency management agencies. FEMA owes Biloxi about $12 million, mostly for infrastructure work going on in the city.

“It’s a moving target because we’re getting bills every day,” Gilich said. The amount owed is being whittled down, he said, and he and other city officials meet with FEMA and MEMA every two weeks.

“You’ve got to speed up revenues and slow down payables,” Gilich said.

Court action forced the city to spend about $400,000 to satisfy a lawsuit brought against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union. That money was used to hire more city court officials and the expense continues forward each year, he said.

City employee salaries were increased a total of $1.5 million last year and Gilich said, “We’ve got to hike that, too.”

On the plus side, $4.1 million from the BP settlement went to creating a fund that paid off bonds with the highest interest, he said, and this will be the year the city will start providing the services it promised in Woolmarket.