Council passes scaled-back municipal budget

The Biloxi City Council passed a municipal budget this morning that includes $3.8 million deficit — the smallest deficit in at least five years — and although the spending plan calls for no new taxes, residents can expect to see increases on their monthly water bill.

“This is the lowest deficit that I have seen in the five years I’ve been here at City Hall,” said Director of Administration David Staehling, “but I still wish we could cut it more.”

Staehling, Mayor A.J. Holloway and council members have wrestled with an operating budget that forecasts $54 million in revenue — through gaming, sales and property taxes — and proposes to spend $58 million to fund most city operations. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

“We’re able to absorb this $3.8 million deficit by dipping into our general fund balance,” Staehling said. “That general fund balance was $27 million a couple of years ago. It was $18 million this past year, and when we begin the budget year it will be about $9 million. At the end of the budget year, a year from now, we expect it to be somewhere around $3.2 million.

“As you can see from that downward trend, we cannot continue to dip into that fund. It will be gone, and to be honest it should be somewhere between 10 percent of our operating revenue, which is about $5.4 million, or two months worth of expenses, which is about $10.6 million. We should have a healthy fund balance in the event of economic uncertainty or an interruption in our revenue stream, such as a hurricane.”

The fund has dwindled because annual expenses have outweighed annual revenue. To close the gap between expenses and revenue, councilmembers have said employees will be required to take six furlough days — days off without pay — this budget year, and also will begin paying a portion of family heath insurance. Additionally, fees have been increased in the Community Development Department for first time in 20 years, the monthly garbage fee has been increased from $7.50 to $10, and fees have been re-introduced for the city’s youth sports leagues.

In a separate issue, although the city is not raising its water or sewer rates, residents can expect to see monthly water bills that will include significant increases in debt service payments to the Harrison County Utility Authority. The debt service payments will increase from the current sewage rate of $1.76 per thousand gallons to $4.40 per thousand gallons. The average residential customer in Biloxi uses 8,000 gallons, which will translate to a $21 increase per month.

“These are significant increases, and we realize that,” Staehling said, “but the fact is, even with the increases, Biloxi will continue to offer the lowest water, sewer and garbage rates of any city in south Mississippi. Our goal needs to be to continue to lower our operating costs.”

News and notes

Trio of events: The Parks and Recreation Department has three events coming up Friday and Saturday for young and old audiences: a rock ‘n’ roll seniors bash, a back-to-school pool party, and a play day at Beck Park. For details on each, click here.

Dance Time USA: William Sackett will be launching a new Sunday afternoon dance party at the Hard Rock that promises to tap into the renewed popularity of dancing. To read more about the endeavor and to print a poster, click here.

Weekend preview: To see this weekend’s entertainment lineup — B.B. King, Neil Young, Merle Haggard and more — click here.