Last night the Bay St Louis Mayor and City Council conducted another budget workshop. A full draft of the proposed budget was presented to the City Council and that draft proposed budget contained approximately $180,000 in direct personnel cost reductions in the Utility Fund, Mayor Fillingame told Slabbed after the meeting that the City is committed to removing all but direct Water and Sewer labor from the Enterprise Fund to the General Fund budget. This is an important step forward.
The overall City personnel budget has not been changed but last night’s actions set up a vital and long neglected public discussion. A few weeks ago at the Ward One Town Hall meeting I told the both Mayor Fillingame and Councilman Seal after the meeting that charging General fund salaries directly to the Water and Sewer Fund cheated the public of the very valid discussion regarding the level of City services which the citizenry should be properly paying taxes to support. It is without question both the Council and the Administration now understand the value in having this discussion as people across this town are making their feelings known to their elected officials.
Bay St Louis has the lowest millage rate of any City on the coast but that only tells a part of the story. One mil is worth over $100,000 to the City and the value of a mil varies across the Coast. That said having lived and pay taxes in three of the six coastal counties I can also say it is undeniable that Hancock County in general and Bay St Louis in particular are the lowest cost locales of the three counties that I am personally familiar.
None of this is to say raising taxes is a foregone conclusion here in the Bay. That said a discussion about property tax rates to support vital City services is one that the City has long avoided and frankly is long overdue for consideration. How the Mayor and Council tackle these issues will depend in large part upon what they hear from the public in the Bay. The Mayor was clear last night that he as well as the City Council are listening to the concerns of the people and that is a very encouraging sign.
Tomorrow night is another budget workshop that is scheduled to begin at 5:30 PM in the City Council Chambers. I urge the public to attend and make their views known.