Editorials

$1 million. $2 million. How much more can police and fire budgets do without?

Police officer not only get calls to emergencies, they also work overtime on weekends keeping the crowds safe at big events such as Cruisin’ The Coast.
Police officer not only get calls to emergencies, they also work overtime on weekends keeping the crowds safe at big events such as Cruisin’ The Coast. Sun Herald File

The city of Biloxi over the years, thanks to a strong tax base and a thriving casino industry, has built exemplary police and fire departments.

But now there are leaner times in the city and the departments are poised to take a $2 million hit in the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. City officials say the departments can deal with the smaller budget without reducing services. The city cut $1 million from the budgets in the current fiscal year.

“Public safety, of course, is one of the basic functions of city government,” wrote public affairs manager Vincent Creel in an email. “Accordingly, the reductions in the budgets in the police and fire departments impact proposed purchases of equipment. There will be no reduction in the numbers of police officers or firefighters on the job in Biloxi every day.”

We trust their judgment. And we hope the City Council is looking further down the road to the next year and the one after that.

This year, the department will absorb the budget cut by putting off buying new vehicles and other equipment, and by not filling nine vacancies. But the department, which Creel said buys eight to 12 vehicles a year to keep its fleet in top shape, can’t put those purchases off forever. And it can’t continue to leave vacant positions unfilled and keep 130 sworn officers and 171 firefighters on the job.

For more than a quarter century, the city’s tax rate has been reduced six times. Creel said, “You’d have to go back more than 25 years to see the last time Biloxi raised its city property tax rate.”

We’re not saying the city will have to raise taxes, but we do believe the city needs to find an alternative to cutting spending for vital services.

They are asked to keep citizens and visitors safe in some extremely taxing times: Spring break, Cruisin’ The Coast and Mardi Gras come to mind. And, one reason the departments are so strong is that they offer competitive pay. Budget cuts should not jeopardize that progress.

It’s a common problem across the country. Public safety is a huge chunk of municipal budgets. That’s just the price of living in safe communities. We taxpayers should be happy to pay that price.

Criminals will be ecstatic if we don’t.

“No one likes to reduce budgets, but the mayor and City Council are having to draft a budget that lives within our means while providing the services that Biloxi residents expect and deserve,” Creel said.

We say we are fortunate to be served by men and women in police departments across the Coast who have earned a level of respect not found in many parts of the country. We expect our leaders to continue to provide the resources they need to serve us so well.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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