Holloway updates finances, addresses water bills and more

Biloxi has been able to bring spending more in line with revenue for the first time in several years, and although the financial outlook is stable, Mayor A.J. Holloway told a Biloxi Chamber of Commerce audience that the city must remain vigilant and continue cost-cutting measures.

The mayor, who plans to present a FY 2012 budget proposal to councilmembers in several weeks, spoke about the city’s financial position, complaints about the increased surcharge on the city’s water bills, and a host of other issues during a chamber Breakfast with the Mayor gathering at the Edgewater Mall Food Court.

Biloxi’s general fund, which once had revenues of more than $40 million, has been whittled down to $10 million after years of deficit budgeting. However, cost-cutting measures that have included a hiring-freeze, a decrease in employee benefits and employee furloughs have helped bring the city’s budget closer into balance, relieving pressure off the general fund.

As of June 1, Holloway told the audience, the city had seen $37 million in revenue and $35 million in expenses.

However, the mayor said, increases in claims against the city’s employee insurance fund could lead to employees seeing a slight increase in the cost of health insurance for their families. The city provides free insurance for employees, but last year required employees to begin paying a portion of cost of family coverage.

Holloway also said he understood the complaints that some residents have about the increase in monthly water bills. A weeks-old drought is causing residents to use more water, which is more expensive this summer because of debt service payments to the Harrison County Utility Authority.

Another factor: the increased usage and increased surcharge occurred at the same time when the city could no longer afford to subsidize the water department, which had kept the city’s water rates artificially low for years.

“Some people wonder why the bills in Biloxi went up so much, and you don’t hear about bills going up in other cities,” Holloway said. “The answer is simple. The bills in the other cities were already high. In fact, we are still lower than most of them. We have some of the lowest rates in the entire state.

“But I know you don’t want to hear that. You want that bill back where it was. I’d like to see it go down some, but I don’t know if it will ever be as cheap as it was.”

More online

— To read the mayor’s speaking points from this morning, click here.

— To see photos from the gathering, click here.

— To see a comparison of water, sewer and garbage rates for Coast cities, click here.

— The city’s annual water quality report should be arriving in mailboxes in the next few days, but you can see the consumer confidence report now. Just click here.