New city budget coming into focus

Biloxi has a busy year coming up, but it’s not without some belt tightening.

The city launches the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, and after weeks of budget negotiations between the Gilich administration and City Council, a few thing are apparent: There will be no increase in the city property tax rate, but fees for some services will be increasing to match the cost of delivering those services.

The budget anticipates annual revenue of $57 million and departmental expenses of $53.9 million, a reduction of $2.9 million from the FY ’17 budget.

The new spending plan also includes about $15 million in major improvement projects, funded mainly through long-term financing or grants. Those projects include construction of two new fire stations, drainage improvements in Woolmarket, two pedestrian overpasses on U.S. 90, opening of Howard Avenue to two-way traffic, restoration of the exterior of the Saenger Theatre, and miscellaneous paving throughout the city. Work is expected to be completed on the Popp’s Ferry causeway park, and design and right-of-way acquisition will continue for the new Keesler gate at Division Street and extension of Popp’s Ferry Road to U.S. 90.

Said Chief Administrative Officer Mike Leonard in a statement presented Tuesday night to the City Council: “The mayor believes that the anticipated increase in property and sales taxes driven by new development we are experiencing will allow the city to perform essential services without a property tax rate increase.”

Three new hotels are now under construction on U.S. 90, and several new restaurants have either opened or are in the offing.

Still, to balance the budget, the city eliminated 19 vacant positions – including nine in Police and Public Works – and reduced new equipment purchases to help reduce spending.

The city also is pushing up to Oct. 1 a water-rate increase that was scheduled to take effect in March. However, the majority of the city’s customers, those who use 5,000 gallons of water of less a month, will not see a change in their monthly water bill.

The monthly fee for garbage pickup, which is also included on the water bill, will increase to $14.33 from $12.50, to cover the cost of the service, which will be reduced from twice-a-week pickup to once a week under a contract with the Harrison County Utility Authority. The contract also calls for larger recycling carts and has a firm dedicated exclusively to picking up trash and yard waste.

City employees also will be impacted in the new budget.. Single employees will now pay $50 a month for health insurance, and the family plan increases to $100 a month, up from $50 a month. The increased fees will help offset the $7.6 million cost of providing health insurance to employees and their dependents.
Video: CAO Mike Leonard speaks about the new budget
See the details on the FY ’18 budget
See photos from the Tuesday night budget hearing