July 30, 2008

Biloxi Council Looks at Raising Utility Fees: Budget Shows Deficit in Fund

By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jul. 30--BILOXI -- Taxes in Biloxi will likely remain at the same rate as they have for the past 16 years, but the council is considering raising fees for water, sewer and garbage to offset the costs of providing those services.

The public got a first look Tuesday at the $615.5 million budget for the 2009 fiscal year. This proposed budget compares to $148 million pre-Katrina and includes $417.9 million in FEMA-funded capital projects and $26.3 million for the school district.

It shows a deficit of about $2 million in the utility fund, which prompted the administration to propose gradually raising monthly water fees by $4 a month each year for five years. Sewer rates would increase double that amount and garbage fees would go up $4.

Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick said the city charges households $5 a month for garbage collection but pays almost $14 for each home.

City Administrator David Staehling checked utility prices paid in all communities on the Coast and said Biloxi has by far the lowest rates and is the only city to give a 10 percent senior discount.

Fitzpatrick said with tax rates flat and expenses going up, "There's absolutely no excess money in this budget anywhere."

"We just need to be a little careful and watch the fund balance," Staehling said.

The city will issue bonds, borrow money or a combination of the two to fund about $70 million in capital projects. Among them are finishing the Popp's Ferry Phase 4 extension from Cedar Lake to the D'Iberville line, water and sewer work in Woolmarket and street work on Brasher and Brodie roads, Saylor Drive and River Place.

Biloxi already surpassed its original budget for gasoline and diesel for the current year and Controller William Lanham said the proposed budget for is more than $2 million, a 57 percent increase.

"We're just starting," Mayor A.J. Holloway said.

The next budget meetings are Tuesday with a workshop at 9 a.m. and the regular meeting and budget hearing at 6 p.m.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

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