|Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address, delivered Jan. 29, 2004 during a Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino:
Thank you for such a warm welcome. It’s great to see such a good turnout for this event each year.
Before I begin, let me make a few important introductions. The City Council:
- Ward 1: George Lawrence
- Ward 2: Eric Dickey
- Ward 3: Jim Compton
- Ward 4: Charles T. Harrison Jr.
- Ward 5: Mike Fitzpatrick
- Ward 6: Tom Wall
- Ward 7: David Fayard
I’d also like to recognize the city directors who I count on each day to help run this city.
Chief Administrative Officer Jim Borsig, Public Works Director Richard Sullivan, Police Chief Bruce Dunagan, Fire Chief David Roberts, Legal Director Ronnie Cochran, Parks and Rec Director Nathan Sullivan, and, of course, Community Development Director David Staehling.
I’d also like to recognize my wife, Macklyn. Without Macklyn’s patience, understanding and devotion, I would not be here. And yes, she has her opinions.
I know the Biloxi Bay leadership is proud of how this event has grown over the years.
In the simplest terms, as I’ve said before, the State of the City is where the mayor is supposed to tell you what your city is doing with your tax dollars.
This is where I answer those questions that we ALL inevitably face: “What have you done for me lately?” and “What are you going to do for me tomorrow?”
I hope to do that in the next 20 minutes or so, and I hope to make it interesting for you.
Some might ask why they have to pay 20 dollars to hear me tell them about what we’re doing with their tax money. Some might question if it’s worth 20 bucks. And some might think that it’s a bargain for 20 dollars.
Regardless, I’m for free speech, and this speech is free. The 20 you paid was for lunch -- and the warm and quiet company of Susan Hunt.
I’ll use this platform today to give you an overview of the city’s health and well-being – and what we’re doing to address the important issues facing our city, and how we deal with them on a daily basis.
The State of the City provides an occasion for you to appreciate the broad range of public works and major initiatives we have underway in all areas of this city. And we’ll tell you how they are supposed to help improve the quality of life for you and me and our families.
We all want this city to remain the place we have grown up with, the place that we have come to love.
The city continues to attract a great deal of interest from a growing number of people – some to visit, some to start new businesses, and some to spend their lives here.
That says a lot about our city. And it will say a lot about me and you if we do our part to make sure Biloxi remains a place that our great-grandchildren will also fall in love with and make their home in the years to come.
An award-winning year
I have to tell you, the things that we’ve been working on the past few years are being noticed. Just last month, we had 40 mayors and local leaders from china here to learn about how Biloxi is successful dealing with growth.
And who could miss the national – make that international – coverage about Biloxi being the first school district in the nation to have cameras in every classroom in the school district.
You saw the story on the front page of USA Today before it made its way to ABC’s World News Tonight, Good Morning America, CBS, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, National Public Radio and even the BBC.
I want to congratulate the members of the Biloxi school board, the faculty and staff in each of the schools, the students, and, of course, superintendent Dr. Larry Drawdy. Larry announced that he was retiring the other day, and I’m sure you join me in wishing him and Kathleen well.
All of the stories were about the cameras, which everybody agreed were a good thing, but I think they missed the big story.
I wonder how many other school districts in the country have invested $60 million in the past five years in capital improvements alone, and have their students rated the top in their state?
We received national attention in a couple of other areas, too, in the past year.
One involved something that’s always been important to me – how we’re managing the city’s 100-million-dollar annual budget.
The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, which oversees 14,000 government financial professionals, awarded the city a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
This award is the highest award they give and it’s a stamp of approval for our annual audit. We thank the Government Finance Officers Association for that honor.
Another national agency, the Federal Emergency Management Association, FEMA, also had some good things to say about us.
In September, FEMA announced that Biloxi was the only community in Mississippi and one of only three communities in the entire South to have a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan.
In fact, we were only one of 10 communities in the entire country to get FEMA approval on the upgraded standards.
Now that we’ve earned that FEMA endorsement, we’re going to make it work for us.
We’re going to see millions of dollars in improvements in our city, making us – and YOU -- better prepared for and in a better position to recover from hurricanes and storms.
Our work will translate into lower insurance rates for you, as we’ve seen in the past few years. Flood insurance rates have gone down 15 percent for Biloxi residents.
And we’ll be able to keep your city property taxes as low as we can because we’ll be eligible for federal grants, which I’ll talk more about in a few minutes.
That’s just some of the national attention this city has received in the past several months. You and I know that we’ve also been addressing a number of other important issues.
Dealing with the issues
We dedicated a lot of time, energy and thought and made what I think are some good and fair decisions on some key issues in recent years.
The issue of height, which generated so many headlines for such a period, has been addressed with some excellent input from Keesler, the development community and property owners.
Last year at this gathering, you’ll recall I announced the appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Clark Griffith to serve as a liaison for the city in helping us prepare for the BRAC hearings in 2005.
We’ve traveled to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, where General Peterson of Keesler, Gen. Griffith and I met with four-star Gen. Don Cook, who is head of air education and training command for the entire Air Force.
We had a good visit with Gen. Cook, and we came away with an agreement to seek funding for a air control tower near Stennis Space Center that would allow Keesler pilots to perform tactical training there.
As many of you know, Congress later appropriated $2 million for the construction of a control tower near Stennis for that training. But make no mistake, these planes will continue to be based here in Biloxi.
From all that we have been told, Keesler Air Force Base has a promising future. Our goal is to keep it that way, and to be vigilant in our efforts to manage the growth of this city and work with Keesler.
Of late, we’ve heard talk of re-zoning a golf course for a super Wal-Mart, the relocation and growth of Treasure Bay, groundbreaking for the new hotel at the Isle of Capri, and, of course, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which will be opening next door to the Beau Rivage.
And just the other day, we faced the threat of poetry reading at a Howard Avenue restaurant.
New land development ordinance
I don’t mean to make light of this poetry reading issue, but I do want to speak to it for a few minutes to make a point.
My friends will agree that I’m not an avid reader of Tennyson or Frost. No, I’ll give you that.
No one will link A.J. Holloway with poetry, although I do think “All the way with Holloway” sounds poetic. But poetry is not the point.
The fact is, it was a noise issue, which led to complaints from the neighborhood, which we dealt with.
That’s when our code enforcement people come in.
When I mentioned the recognition we’ve been receiving and the awards we’ve been receiving, I should also point out that the State Rating Bureau has rated our efforts to enforce codes as one of the top four cities in the entire state.
And you’ve given us the tools to help make it all happen.
We’ve just completed three years of public hearings followed by weeks and weeks of debate and meetings before we passed a Land Development Ordinance to guide the growth of this city.
To put it simply, you told us how you want this city to grow, the things that you felt were important, and that’s what this LDO is all about.
With the explosive growth we’ve seen and with the steady growth we expect to continue on a regular basis, it’s imperative that we protect and preserve the character and quality of life in our neighborhoods.
That we promote our historic districts.
That we require appropriate amounts of green space in all growth – whether it’s casino development, new subdivisions, commercial developments and even things like public housing initiatives like you’re seeing in east Biloxi or the revitalization on Caillavet Street.
We put the LDO in place only four months ago, and I really believe that this document will serve as a solid foundation for growth, and, believe me, we are wasting no time in building on that foundation.
2004: a year of great promise
My fellow citizens, I’m here today to tell you that 2004 is going to be a ground-breaking year for Biloxi – in a literal and figurative sense.
In the next few weeks, we’ll be breaking ground on two new fire stations, one on Howard Avenue to replace the aging East End Fire station, and one in Woolmarket on city property that it will share with a new city park and community meeting house.
We will wrap up work on Popp’s Ferry Road ahead of its November schedule, and we’re already laying the groundwork to replace the aging causeway bridge.
Those of you who have been on Caillavet Street lately notice that our revitalization project is well underway.
Existing businesses are relocating on what will be a new four-lane boulevard that we hope to begin construction on by the last quarter of this year and it will open 12 months later.
Ten months from today, in November, we’ll be moving the first families into new homes in the Hope VI neighborhood project in east Biloxi.
These families will be attending brand new state-of-the-art elementary schools that will open by year’s end at Gorenflo and Nichols.
Earlier this month, we participated in a ground-breaking ceremony for the new 400-room hotel at the Isle of Capri.
In a few days, we’ll help cut the ribbon on the expansion at the Palace Casino, and a few days after that, ground will be broken on the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which expects to open its doors in the summer of ‘05.
You can see the work taking place down the street on the new Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art as it moves toward an opening in 2005.
Next door at Tullis Manor, we’re refurbishing the Crawford House.
Next month, you’ll get a preview of the Mardi Gras Museum at the Dantzler House as we work to have that facility up and running by Mardi Gras of next year.
Many of you have already seen the renaissance of the Saenger Theater that was unveiled several weeks ago.
You’d have to go back to the theater’s opening day in 1929 to have seen it in any better shape, and that’s great news for the dozens of groups who use it each year and the 40,000 patrons who visit it each year.
Places like the Ohr-O’Keefe, Tullis, the Seafood Museum, the Mardi Gras Museum and the Saenger are proud showplaces that pay tribute to and honor – AND more importantly, preserve -- our colorful past.
They spark an interest among our youth. They showcase a way of life that shows the character and hard work of our ancestors. They say who we are, and they tell our story -- and it’s a great story.
Remembering the past
We need to remember just how far we’ve come over the years – and over the decades.
For instance, 10 years ago, we had a couple of dozen police cars in the Biloxi Police Department. They ran 24 hours a day – when they ran.
The other day, the TV station did a story about the purchase of a $5,000 helmet for the bomb team. Somebody thought they found a case of one of those $300 screwdrivers you read about government buying from time to time.
Let me tell you, THIS mayor does not spend that kind of money at the drop of a helmet.
You should understand that, on any given day, we have more visitors in town than residents – so our public safety people have to be ready for any eventuality.
In the past year or so, we’ve had three officers awarded the department’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for serious injuries received in the line of duty.
We have tens of thousands of vehicles on any given day pass through our city on Interstate 10 and more will begin using Highway 90 as roadway improvements continue to be made and waterfront growth continues.
We continue to provide our officers with the best training, best pay and, yes, best equipment, to do their jobs, which is keeping me and you safe.
Spending on police and fire has gone from 5 million to 25 million -- five times more a year than we spent 10 years ago.
But we’ve made an impact. Crime is not an issue, although we suffer the same challenges as cities across our country, but we are meeting the challenge. Our streets and neighborhoods are safer.
Our Fire Department has kept our fire rating at a constant level in the face of tremendous growth. A good fire rating means lower insurance rates for you.
Our firefighters continue to respond to hundreds of medical calls each year, and our firefighters continue to undergo invaluable training to help meet a growing number of challenges.
We should not overlook the fact that firefighters too, can face life-and-death situations on any given call.
To help them remain prepared, we’re building those two new fire stations, which will be state of the art facilities, just as we did with the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center and our communications center on Popp’s Ferry Road.
And I want to point out that the investment we make locally – whether it’s in public safety or building new roads, has additional benefits.
A good bit of the equipment that we have in our bomb squad – tens of thousands of dollars worth of sophisticated, electronics gear – was given to us by the FBI.
And that’s just a small part of the story.
State and federal grants
You see, we leverage our money – or some might say, parlay it – into grants from the federal government and, when possible, from the state government.
And, I’m proud to say that we’ve been quite successful. In the past 10 years, this city has received about 60 million dollars in grants.
We use them to hire police officers that you see in the street or working with students in public schools.
We use federal and state money to help defray the construction costs on roads like Back Bay Boulevard or Pass Road.
We used some state grant money, along with county assistance for furnishings, when we doubled the size of the Margaret Sherry Library, which re-opened several weeks ago.
And, we use federal money to help refurbish homes, or, in the case of the Biloxi Housing Authority’s Hope 6 program, to create entire new neighborhoods.
That Hope 6 project, by the way, didn’t just fall from the sky. That grant was the result of the commitment we’ve made in east Biloxi.
We’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars invested along Casino Row and on Back Bay, creating thousands of jobs.
At the same time, we’ve improved the infrastructure, built new fire stations, new roads and new schools.
THESE things are what created an environment that led to the federal government awarding Biloxi this $35 million Hope VI project – the largest of its kind awarded to any city in the country.
We’re doing our part locally, and, as a result, the state and federal governments are rewarding us with matching grants.
Today, I want to publicly thank Senators Lott and Cochran and Representative Taylor for their work in helping secure some of these grants.
Construction management is working
That brings me to another source of pride – the tremendous improvements you’re seeing on our major roadways.
Last year, I stood before you to announce that we would be opening parts of Back Bay Boulevard a couple of months ahead of schedule and the remainder would open on schedule. That happened.
We have a new four-lane boulevard along the Bay today.
I also announced that we would open part of Popp’s Ferry, from Cedar Lake to Jam Lane almost two months ahead of schedule. That happened and we have that five-lane roadway open. But as all of you who drive Popp’s Ferry Road know, our work is continuing.
I appreciate the cooperation and the patience that we’ve seen from residents in that area.
We’re seeing this kind of spirit and goodwill because we’re using innovation to meet the demands of improving traffic.
We’re doing it in record time and on budget – and it’s all because of the construction management team that we have in place.
In fact, a few months ago, the state Association of Builders and Contractors gave us an award for excellence because of the efficiency and productivity of this program.
We’ve had cities from across the state – Jackson, Meridian, Hattiesburg – come to Biloxi to copy this program.
As you may know, the last phases of Popp’s Ferry – from Jam Lane to the causeway -- are scheduled to be completed by this November, which is in line with the announced 16-month construction schedule.
Some of you may recall that when the current phases of Popp’s Ferry Road were first talked about, the work was expected to take 24 months, which means it would not have been ready until July of next year.
It was at the State of the City address last year, when I promised you that I’d ask the CM team to look at ways to streamline this work and combine phases when possible, which is how we narrowed it down to November.
We made promises to you, and we followed through.
Today, I am proud to announce to you that the Popp’s Ferry project will be finished this summer, even ahead of its November schedule.
I want to congratulate the local contractors who continue to work so hard on this project.
Construction management, I think you’ll agree, has proven to be the tool that we said it would be.
Government – at any level – is generally associated with red tape, bureaucracy, missed deadlines or cost overruns.
You generally don’t think of ahead of schedule or on budget. Unless you’re living here in Biloxi and you saw the success we had on Back Bay Boulevard and you can SEE the excellent progress we’re making on Popp’s Ferry Road.
I also want to thank the members of the City Council for supporting this position.
Councilmen Jim Compton and Tom Wall, you may recall, were the two early supporters of this concept.
As many of you know, Jim and I haven’t always agreed on everything, but he was right on THIS.
A few weeks ago, Jim announced that he was accepting a position in the private sector in Hattiesburg and he said he’ll be stepping down in April.
Jim, I want to wish you and Deborah well in your upcoming challenge.
Some of you may be aware that we have created two construction crews in our Public Works Department to handle some construction work that we had previously been outsourcing.
These crews have completed more than 40 streets and drainage repairs in the past year.
This is not to say that we don’t have our local contractors, engineers, architects and laborers busy.
In fact, more than two dozen contractors have been involved in construction management on Back Bay, Popp’s Ferry and Caillavet.
Some people were worried that construction management would take work away from our local people, but that has not been the case.
More accomplishments on the way
Right now, we have 93 capital projects in the budget, with a price tag of 61.2 million dollars. How many will be completed?
Let’s look at the record. Over the past five years, we have averaged spending 21 million dollars a year on capital projects. Last year alone, it was 26.6 million. The work is being done, and when possible, ahead of schedule.
In coming weeks and months, you’re going to see us undertake several major projects that will improve the flow of traffic on several major existing thoroughfares.
On Popp’s Ferry at Atkinson Road, we’re going to install new, state-of-the-art cantilevered traffic signals and make some improvements to the intersection itself.
Right now, we’re doing the design work for major improvements on Pass Road.
You’ll see all major intersections on Pass Road in Biloxi be upgraded with similar cantilevered traffic signals and right hand turning lanes at intersections where needed.
You’re going to see an integrated system, where the signals are better timed to accommodate morning and afternoon rush hour traffic.
Right now, the improvements are being designed so we can begin the right-of-way acquisition work.
We’re going to be using some matching federal dollars for that project, and we’re also awaiting word on an application to FEMA for money to add cantilevered signals at all intersections on U.S. 90.
This is part of the hazard mitigation plan, a plan that only Biloxi and two other cities in the South have, and no others in Mississippi.
Of course, we’ll enjoy the benefits of these new lights every day, not just when a hurricane threatens.
Improving the flow of traffic on an everyday basis is certainly the reason that we’re undertaking all of these major projects, but it’s certainly not the only reason.
Road work leads to economic growth
This roadwork spurs economic growth – new businesses or stores, which create jobs, which create taxpayers and home owners.
Our work is also about improving neighborhoods.
On Popp’s Ferry Road, for instance, you’ll see sidewalks, and curbing, things they didn’t have before, and improved lighting.
And at the same time, we wanted to preserve the neighborhoods, so we didn’t build a super highway through Sunkist, but a well-designed thoroughfare that can safety accommodate traffic – which is approaching 20,000 cars on an average day.
We were also successful in having our congressional delegation appropriate 2 million dollars to fund an environmental impact statement and engineering to address the issue of the Popp’s Ferry bridge.
We need to replace that aging bridge with one that will require less maintenance, and more importantly, is high enough so that it does not have to open as often for marine traffic.
We need a bridge that will be of the same quality of the roadway leading to it.
This past year, we completed Phase III of the new 67-acre sports complex – three softball fields, eight soccer fields, lighting, concession stands and even covered bleachers. The complex hosted its first softball game in August, followed by a high school tournament.
Our soccer fields at the complex have also been hosting play.
This summer, we’ll be opening the five Little League fields, an adult field and a fourth softball field at the complex.
These latest additions, accounting for almost 2.5 million dollars, bring our total out there to almost 10 million dollars, and, more importantly, a first-class sports complex.
One thing we did notice in the past year was that our participation in recreation programs leveled off the past couple of years.
That’s because we lost a couple of summer playground sites due to school construction, and, frankly, we’re expecting to see increased participation once we get the sports complex fully up and running.
Improvements in Woolmarket area
Recreation is also one of our focuses in Woolmarket, but it’s not the only one.
We’ve invested millions of dollars in improvements, through enhanced fire and police protection, maintaining of rights of way, and infrastructure improvements.
Right now, a wastewater trunk line is being installed from the Eagle Point treatment plant northward – under I-10 and up Highway 67.
This is part of our commitment to provide essential services for a growing community.
We all want a community that has a healthy environment and clean water. Doing the things that you need to get there are not easy.
They take a lot of time and a tremendous amount of money.
We’ll be spending over a million dollars on a new million gallon elevated water tank in Woolmarket.
The tank will be similar to the one we installed on Cedar Lake.
You’ll also see one of these new tanks going up in east Biloxi this summer.
You know, a ground breaking for a new water tank or a ribbon cutting at the local sewage plant don’t usually make the 6 o’clock news or the front page of the paper.
But you’ll know about it right away if you flush your toilet and nothing happens – or worse. I am proud of what we’re doing in this vital area.
The new water tank in Woolmarket will be on the same 22-acre site on Oaklawn Road where we’ll have a the new fire station, a multi-use sports field, playground equipment, picnicking areas, a lodge for community gatherings, and a four-acre freshwater pond that will be surrounded by a walking trail.
We should be in that station 11 months from today.
You’ll also be seeing the city make this sort of investment and devoting this sort of attention to another new area we’ll be responsible for shortly – the Biloxi Port Commission.
We stand ready and able to make some much needed improvements at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, at the commercial harbor and at Point Cadet Marina. In fact, just this month, the City Council approved a $250,000 project to upgrade the electrical system for boat slips. This project is using FEMA matching money, like that grant money I mentioned earlier.
I had the honor of serving on the transition team for Governor Haley Barbour.
I am convinced that Haley will have the contacts and the ability to make things happen and follow through on his promises to make sure south Mississippi gets the respect it deserves.
With this presentation that I’ve made here today, I hope that you will leave this room with the knowledge that we’re doing our part here in Biloxi.
We’ve had a great year, an exciting year, and a productive year.
We’re ready for another groundbreaking year, and I want to thank all of you for your continued support and encouragement.
I’m proud to be your mayor, and hope that you’re just as proud of our city and the promise of our future.
God bless Biloxi, and God bless you.