Mayor discusses condos, budget at chamber gathering

Here is the text, as prepared, of Mayor Holloway’s remarks to the audience at the Biloxi Chamber’s “Breakfast With the Mayor,” Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2005, at the Gulf Coast Business Technology Center.

Thank all of you for being here this morning, and thanks to Adele for hosting.

As you now, we’re a month into the four-year term, and there’s been a lot of talk about a number of important issues. I’ll update you a few things, and then take a few questions.

I guess the thing that concerns me the most right now is the talk of increasing the density of condo development here in Biloxi. We have about 500 existing condo units in Biloxi – like the Windjammer, Pelican Cay, Anatole Bay, etc.

And right now, we have 500 units under construction at two sites, Sea Breeze and Beau View. And here’s the big number: We have 3,100 proposed units on the drawing board and going through the permitting process.

There’s a move afoot by some on the city council to change our ordinance to increase what’s known as the density.

I think the administration and planning commission had offered a fair and reasonable figure when we proposed the Land Development Ordinance. After months of public hearings, we proposed 40 units per acre, which could increase by 25 percent depending on the size of the project.

At the time, the council voted to reduce that number to where it stands today, 30 units per acre.

Now, some want to increase the number of units for each project from 30 units per acre to, some of them are saying, as many as 80 units per acre or even unlimited.

This concerns me for a number of reasons:

— Additional demand on infrastructure –water and wastewater treatment; and let’s not forget traffic.

— Density will mean we might be looking at quantity instead of quality. Right now, we’re pleased with the quality of the proposed units.

— If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We have 3,100 UNITS PROPOSED RIGHT NOW.

The second issue we’re working on is the city budget, which we’ll be discussing at a special meeting at 10 o’clock this morning.

I’ve presented a proposed budget to the Council last week and hopefully we’ll come to agreement between now and the first of September.

The budget this year is about $108 million, which includes $22 million for schools. Drafting your city budget is not getting an easier.

Remember all of the figures you heard over the years? We had anywhere from $40 million to $49 million to $60 million and $70 million just sitting in the bank. I think they said it wasn’t even drawing interest, right, Wes?

I’m here to tell you something that I also told you was going to happen during the State of the City address:

That money’s gone.

In most cases, you’re driving on it. Popp’s Ferry, Cedar Lake, Richards Drive, Back Bay Bouelvard, and in several months, Caillavet Street.

Your kids are playing on it at the sports complex. Or you see it in new fire stations, new fire trucks, new elevated water tanks and other big-ticket improvements.

This proposed budget came in about $350,000 under the projected revenue – and that’s after I had the department directors go back two times to make 5 percent cuts in their proposals.

We’re back in the real world. We still have an ending fund balance – or SURPLUS — of about $5 million, which, let me tell you, will run this city for about a month and a half. That reserve fund has usually been as high as $9 million each year.

Where’s all the money gone? Well, first let me say where it came from. Our annual revenue from the casinos is about $20 million.

Depending on which figures you go by, that is about a third of our annual revenue. About 24 percent of our annual revenue comes from sales taxes, and only about 17 percent comes from your property taxes. The rest is from grants, fines and fees.

Over the years, we’ve ramped up where needed to provide the basic services you expect from city government.

Every time we build a fire station, that means we’ll need new trucks and equipment to put in that station. Then, we’ll need a staff of at least 12 new firefighters to man that station.

When you see a new Donald Snyder Center or a new sports complex, that means we’ll need staff to operate it. We also took over water and sewer operation, and we took over the port division.

We also have held the line on fees for services, and in fact, we abolished the registration fees in our recreation department, which has seen our participation double.

Which brings me to my next point:

We’ve done all of these things in the past while LOWERING your city taxes, and we’re working to maintain now.

Some of the major projects in the new budget:

–Demolition of old Dukate school on Howard Avenue, which will be site of new community center, $200,000

–Water and sewer rehab, $2 million

–Small projects.

Those are two of the biggest things we’re working on now.