Mayor speaks to budget, Katrina debt, other issues

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s presentation to the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce “Breakfast With the Mayor” Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011, at The Innnovation Center.

Good morning, and welcome to another Breakfast with the Mayor.

Yesterday, the City Council passed a budget and I think it’s a good one, considering everything.

We begin the year with a $9 million beginning fund balance, and we end the year with $4 million.

In between, we’ll take in about $54.8 million in revenue and pay out about $58.4 million in expenses.

Yea, that’s right, we’re spending more than we’re taking in, but we’re closing the gap.

That’s it in a nutshell for the budget. Quite frankly, this is a lean, lean, lean budget.

We provide you the services that you expect and deserve, but we’re not doing much more than that because we just don’t have the money.

There is no tax increase. Your water bills are going to be down about $60 a year for the average customer.

But don’t get the idea that we don’t have a lot going on right now.

We’re going to begin clearing and grubbing the right of way out here on the last phase of Popp’s Ferry Road widening in the next several months.

After that, the utility companies will re-locate their lines. We’ve had the right of way purchased for some time now, and, like most things, it’s just been a function of money.

We’re also working right now on Popp’s Ferry causeway park. We’ll see the marsh overlook repaired, and a new concrete promenade going from the little bridge on the causeway to the boat ramp.

We’re getting national attention for our partnership to create a greenway at the Bayou Auguste. We’re working with the Gulf Coast Design Studio and the Housing Authority on this project.

Work at the Lighthouse fishing docks and the commercial harbor by the Hard Rock will be ramping up, and our goal is to have new slips and piers all done by next shrimping season.

Out in Woolmarket, yesterday, we received Health Department approval to begin work on adding a 16-inch water line on Woolmarket Road to John Lee.

We’ve already done Oaklawn to Shorecrest and Pin Oak, and we’re looking to loop the entire system out there.

People talk about how long this process has taken. If it was easy, it would have been done before Woolmarket became part of Biloxi.

You know, you have to get a ton of time-consuming approvals, from the DEQ, the Harrison County Utility Authority and just yesterday we got the Health Department.

Speaking of yesterday, as you know, there were a couple of other issues that came up at City Hall. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art issue was tabled. I told all of you my feelings on that last month.

The other issue that came up – and it’s a big one – involves a debt we’ll soon be facing from Hurricane Katrina.

We got a lot of publicity across the country for being the city that bought a $92,000 insurance policy a few months before the storm and turned it into a $10 million windfall. As much as that $10 million helped us, it was a drop in the bucket.

Like most local governments, we had to borrow millions of dollars through FEMA’s Community Disaster Loan program, known as a CDL. We borrowed about 11 million dollars at 2.7 percent interest.

Unlike most local governments, we’re going to have to pay loan back, with 2.7 percent interest, which means $13.7 million.

We have about $7 million set aside right now, and we have to pay the entire $13.7 million in December 2015.

We’re setting aside about $1.6 million a year and we’ll be right on the money in four years when it is due.

Yesterday, David Staehling had to fight off Councilman Stallworth when this loan came up.

The fact is, we must meet our obligations first before we can look at funding things like museums or anything else that is not critical.

I’ve always said that having money is one thing, but knowing how to manage it is something else. I don’t think we ought to spend that money with idea that we can rep-lace it with other money that ought to be coming in.

I can’t guarantee that Margaritaville and the new Wal-mart are going to is going to open on time and that things are going to go as planned several months from now. I hope they do, but look at the old Margaritaville.

I cannot guarantee that we’ll see an increase in gaming or sales taxes this year. I like to think that we will, but who knows with this economy.

You start doing your budget based on things that MIGHT happen, I guarantee you that you WILL get in trouble.

Now, let me tell you something great that I have a very strong feeling WILL happen. And that’s the Kroc Center opening this weekend.
I’d like to call forward Major Terry Ray to give us a two-minute preview.

[Major Terry Ray speaks. Resume with:]

Earlier this year, I told you that this was going to be the year of Biloxi, when we cut ribbons and dedicated buildings.

Well, those things are happening. The visitors center. The civic center. The new library. And this weekend, you’ll see the Salvation Army step forward with something great.

We have a lot of things going on and more on the way.

OK, that’s all I have to say today.

How about some questions?