Could Gautier finally take off economically over the next four years?
Two men think so, and each thinks he is the man who could make a difference in bringing new revenue to a city with one of the Coast’s lowest budgets.
Incumbent Gordon Gollott, 75, and Phil Torjusen, 61, a real estate professional will face one another in a Republican primary that will determine who wins the mayor’s job.
Under Gautier’s council-manager form of government, the mayor chairs the seven-member council, has a vote on all measures considered, and acts as an ambassador for the city. The council sets policies, and the city manager runs day-to-day operations.
Both Gollott and Torjusen say economic development is crucial to improving city services. Neither favors tax increases.
Bringing in retail
The Singing River Mall property, now reduced to a Belk department store, is the most visible symbol of the city’s need for more sales tax. A marketing group, Birmingham-based r360, is working on a market analysis to determine the best businesses for Gautier to target for the mall property, which Gollott said will be redeveloped as a shopping center.
He said the study should be completed in 30 days.
“It should have been done a long time ago,” Torjusen said. “We’ve just been sitting stagnant, hoping somebody comes to the city.” He said he wants to take a more proactive approach. He would like to see the city hire an economic development director, but concedes the money might not be in the budget right now.
“Here in Gautier, we’ve got a cash flow problem,” he said. “We’ve been cutting for many years. It affects our services to the citizens, because we just don’t have any money.”
Gollott believes city efforts to redevelop the mall and other properties could pay off over the next four years. He said mall developers are close to finding a large anchor for the property.
“I keep telling people that 2017 is going to be the premier year,” Gordon said. “Once they get a large anchor, the rest of the stores are going to follow suit.”
And, he said, plans are being drawn up to redevelop the shopping center on U.S. 90 across from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. An anchor grocery store is one tenant being sought.
Eyeing utility rates
Both candidates also are focused on water and sewer rates, which have increased in recent years. Gollott said the city had no choice but to raise rates because the water and sewer fund was losing money and must be self-supporting.
New meters were supposed to more accurately measure water consumption, he said, resulting in higher collections for the city. As it turned out, the old meters were reading too high and usage was lower than the city thought. He said a contract with ClearwaterSolutions saves the city about $100,000 a year.
He also said the city will pay off a utility bond in 2019, freeing up $1.2 million a year for other expenses.
Torjusen said he wants to examine the city’s contract with Clearwater and with the Jackson County Utility Authority. He believes the city might find some cost savings that could go toward other expenses, such as raises for city police officers and firefighters, who are among the lowest paid on the Coast.
Gollott agrees police officers and firefighters should earn more money, but says the city will need to lure more business for that to happen.