By Mayor A.J. Holloway
One thing I’ve always tried to do as your mayor is to be fair to all residents of Biloxi, and to do what is right for the city as a whole.
Over the past week, The Sun Herald has covered an issue in a way that questions whether the city – specifically, the mayor – is being fair in our treatment of a particular Caillavet Street property owner. The property owner in this particular case is Living Waters Ministries, Inc. of Biloxi.
I think the facts clearly show that the city - and its mayor - are acting in a fair manner, and, more importantly, following Mississippi law and the City Council's adopted guidelines for property acquisition.
A story in Friday’s paper says the city “wants to charge a church $1,400 a month to rent its own sanctuary.” This is incorrect because the City of Biloxi owns the front one third of the property, which makes it public property. Living Waters Ministries, Inc. has been paid the full value of the jury award, plus interest due from the time the original legal action was filed. Now that ownership of the property has been transferred to the City of Biloxi, the property owner wants to continue to use the property. The City of Biloxi has no objection to this request and has offered it to Living Waters Ministries, Inc. in exactly the same manner others have rented property from the city. The city must follow state law by renting this public property back based on the fair market rental value, as has happened before in the Caillavet Street project.
In the recent eminent domain trial, the church asked the jury to award it $1,167,000 and this amount was testified to under oath by the Church’s appraiser who also gave the opinion that the land was worth $25 per square foot. Fortunately, the jury did not accept this exorbitant amount as being appropriate and actually awarded the church $755,000. The City paid this amount to the church, plus $45,506.85 in legal interest for a total of $800,506.85. If the Church felt it was entitled to greater consideration it had the option of asking for a new trial or an appeal, but did not do so. Instead, it seems to believe that it is entitled to use property owned by the taxpayers for no consideration at all and to have the same taxpayers sell other city property to it at far below market value. The city is interested in cooperating with the church to have it be able to remain in the same location until the front part of the property is actually needed for road construction. However, the church cannot expect the taxpayers of Biloxi to finance this for them.
I think the most bothersome issue is that it makes it appear as if the city is singling out this particular property owner, or that this property owner is being treated differently from others in the Caillavet Street project. The plain fact is the property owner is demanding to be treated differently than other property owners; in violation of state law and the city’s adopted acquisition policy.
All other property owners – residential and commercial-- who have chosen to occupy property after it was acquired by the city has paid rent, either as a part of the purchase price of the property or through outright monthly payments. The same standard lease agreement other property owners signed is before the City Council for approval in this case.
A couple of other relevant issues:
- Living Waters Ministries, Inc. sought $1.167 million for its property (the city claimed the property was worth $437,000 and the jury awarded $755,000)
- Living Waters Ministries, Inc. offered to pay between $1.50 and $3.50 per a square foot for property fronting on the new Caillavet Street (adjoining property their own appraiser testified under oath was worth $25 a square foot)
- The property owner wants the city to dismantle its building and stack it on private property.
The church has been and will continue to be treated fairly and will be charged no more than fair market value for a lease or a purchase of city property.