Ohr, Seafood museums need support from private sector

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s presentation to the Biloxi Chamber’s “Breakfast with the Mayor” gathering, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, at the Vibe restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi.

Thank you for being here this morning. We have a lot of things to talk about, so let’s get started.

The City Council and I are working on drafting a new budget for FY 2012. Our hope is to have something in place at the end of this month.

I think we need to continue the controls that we have in place – the limited spending on capital projects or new equipment, and I think we need to keep employee furloughs in place.

The problem is that each year we’re still spending more money than we take in. You can’t keep doing that. Last year at this time, we were wrapping up a budget year where we knew revenue was down, so we had been cutting expenditures through the year.

Last week, the auditors gave us the detailed report for FY 2010. They say revenue ended up being $7 million below projections, but we had reduced expenditures by $9.3 million. Now, that sounds good, except even with those cuts we still spent $6 million more than we took in.

People don’t like cutting pay or benefits. NOBODY likes that. But the fact is, almost 70 percent of our budget is personnel and benefits, so once you cut all you can cut, you have to look at ways to reduce the cost of personnel and benefits.

We ARE not looking at any tax increases, and we WILL be lowering your water bills, about $60 a year for the average customer, and that would be someone who uses 8,000 gallons of water a month.

You will continue to see the infrastructure work taking place. Right now, we’re out in Sunkist and Ancient Oaks. You’ll be seeing contracts for work in east Biloxi in several months.

We also have a million dollars worth of upgrades underway at three fire stations. We’re using federal funds to harden the roofs on stations at Bay Vista, Veterans Avenue and the Margaret Sherry Library. All work should be completed by first quarter of next year.

You also can see work underway at three water towers – Bay Vista, Popp’s Ferry and Kuhn Street.

A lot of people are talking about the Half Shell Oyster House, and Shaggy’s on the beach and the Port City CafĂ© on Pass Road. They’re all doing great, and I’m happy for ’em.

You can see the new Sharkheads coming up on west beach. The Kroc Center opens in about a month.

In the gaming market here in Biloxi, the new owners of the IP, Boyd Gaming, are going to be spending $44 million on improvements at the property. And we’re following up on things that we were talking to IP about before the sale.

Of course, construction is blowing and going down at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, and you gotta love what the Palace did on the no smoking idea.

What I mean by that is, regardless of your position on smoking, the move to go no smoking voluntarily is being watched by the industry across the nation. And when they write stories about that, they also talk about the $53 million upgrade at the Palace.

And, of course, the Hard Rock got some great publicity for the city when they had Regis Philbin in town. Regis talked about how nice the people were, how much is going on here in Biloxi, and he said when got off the plane it was 68 degrees.

The Regis comments were only part of the story. CBS News ended up doing a six and a half minute story about everything going on here in Biloxi.

I’ve always said that tourism is our niche here in Biloxi. Always has been and always will be.

That’s why I was so happy to see the commissioners at the Harrison County Tourism Commission make the announcement that they did the other day.

They found someone who knew about tourism here not only in Biloxi but in all of south Mississippi. They found someone who was born in Biloxi, grew up in Jackson County and spent years working over in Hancock County.

She’s only been on the job for three days, but I think she spent a lifetime preparing, and I’d like to ask her to come up and say a few words.

Ladies and gentlemen, the new director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, Beth Carierre.

Thank you, Beth.

Now, there’s one other thing that I want to talk about before I take your questions.

Since I’ve been mayor, the city has invested millions of dollars, not only in the Ohr museum, but in the Seafood and Mardi Gras museums. Then consider what we’ve done over the years on the Saenger, the Old Brick House and the list goes on.

Promoting and preserving our heritage and our culture are important things for us to do. Our heritage and our culture are what make us special, and different from every other community in the country.

Now, as these museums look to build these bigger buildings, which have bigger utility bills and other expenses, the city finds itself in a position where it cannot afford to subsidize these operations like we have in the past.

We’ve seen comments from taxpayers who say that they don’t think we ought to do this – whether we have the money or not.

I’ve always thought that the city should help museums, when we could. I’ve never thought that museums would be totally self-sufficient. They would always need some sort of subsidy to meet expenses.

The problem, I think, is that these subsidies have come to be looked upon as entitlements. And, when people see the city struggling to maintain its level of services, they wonder about their tax dollars being spent on bigger museums with bigger expenses.

The role of government is to provide you the basic services that you need. The big ones are public safety. Police and fire. Streets and drainage. Public education. Parks and recreation. Those are the things you expect from us. Those are the basics.

Some would argue, and I would agree, that there needs to be more private sector support for these museums.

The city can only do so much, and I think we’re being asked to do too much in these cases. It’s not fair to the taxpayers.

Now, that’s where we stand at the moment. What does that mean?

I think it means that people who love the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and the Seafood Museum need to translate that love into support, financial support. And I don’t think that means coming to City Hall for financial support.

That means convincing the private sector to make the same type of investment that the city has made, and that’s close to $8 million since I’ve been mayor, and that $8 million is on Ohr alone.

That’s a lot of public investment. Now, it’s time for more private investment.

OK, I’m out of time. Thank all of you for being here this morning. Anyone have any questions or comments?