Jackson County

Pascagoula has a serious budget deficit. But has the city been broke for years?

50 years after Ingalls expanded, ‘When I drive across that bridge I tear up’

George Howell, 90, who was the vice president and general counsel at Ingalls in 1967, reflects on the unprecedented deal that led to the construction of a new, modern shipyard on the west bank of the Pascagoula River.
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George Howell, 90, who was the vice president and general counsel at Ingalls in 1967, reflects on the unprecedented deal that led to the construction of a new, modern shipyard on the west bank of the Pascagoula River.

Pascagoula leaders will meet July 31 to figure out how to move forward, $14 million short in operating funds.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall. City officials learned this month that the city was essentially broke.

“Every dime that’s in the bank belongs to bond projects,” an independent auditor told the City Council, and there’s not even enough in the bank to complete the bond projects.

So far, the talk has been about reducing costs or services and raising more money.

At the budget workshop last week, Councilman Stephen Burrow called it “working through a crisis.”

Burrow said the city would be working toward fiscal solvency, trying to get the city back “where it should have been all along.”

He didn’t see it happening within months or even a year.

The city manager and new comptroller have offered a two-year plan to get the city back on its feet.

Moss Point Mayor Billy Bloomfield tells about uncollected bills and money believed to have been embezzled from the Moss Point Utilities Department. Two employees have resigned from the department and the State Auditor’s office is investigating.

The city removed its long-time comptroller in mid-January and ordered a forensic audit by the Madison, Mississippi, firm of Collins, Barr & Hembree. That audit, given to city officials earlier this month, showed the city has been for years passing a budget on unrealistic revenue projections. The city was spending based on income estimates that were too high.

The way auditor Robbie Barr explained it last week, it was like the city spending $60,000 on a salary of $40,000, year after year.

The budget balanced, he said, because it included bond money and special revenue funds that should have been set aside for their projects.

For example, in 2015, $1.5 million the city received in BP oil spill settlement money went to boost the general fund. Instead of being earmarked for special purposes or projects, it was absorbed into the shortfall that year.

It was a common practice in years past to move money from the utility fund into the general fund to balance the budget, Councilman Scott Tipton said Wednesday.

The only reason it wasn’t done in the last two years is that, “there was no money left in there to do it,” Tipton said.

The city is wide open for solutions, leaders said, including the possibility of selling public land, like parks.

The audit covered budget years 2012 to 2017.

City departments have been aware of some version of a deficit since May, and in June halted spending and began looking for places to cut.

On Friday, Mayor Dane Maxwell and city representatives turned over packets of information to the state auditor and the District Attorney’s office, including city budgets and the recent forensic audit.

Maxwell said they are looking for complete understanding of the severity of the “poor financial management practices in the past and the extent to which any employees or officials were responsible or had knowledge of the financial mismanagement at the city. “

Gulf Restoration Network provides "low-cost" aerial photographs of Bayou Casotte in Pascagoula and the industries along it for a neighborhood who has been fishing industrial pollution coming into their neighborhood. Cherokee Concerned Citizens has

Karen Nelson can be reached at 228-896-2310 or @NelsonNews_atSH
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