STATE OF THE CITY ’02

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City Address, delivered Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002, before a luncheon sponsored by the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce at the Isle of Capri Casino Resort.:

Good afternoon and welcome. I’m glad to see so many of you here. This is my ninth time to come before you for the State of the City address.

I thank the Biloxi Bay Chamber for sponsoring this event – and for all you do for the city of Biloxi.

Before I get started, I want to recognize a few people in the audience. (Councilmembers, directors, and family.)

I also see that we have a number of the members of our city boards and commissions. I thank all of you for being here, too.

Even though I have been here eight times before to deliver the State of the City address, today is the first time since you re-elected me. For that privilege and honor, I say thank you. I love this city.

I’m going to keep working to make it the best city it can be – for you and me, and for our children and grandchildren. I do not take this responsibility lightly, and I’m proud of the job that we are doing for you.

We’ve seen a lot of great things and positive changes in our city in the past few years, but we learned right away on the morning of 9-11 that our way of life is a very precious thing. Even as events were unfolding that morning, General Mercer had Mayor Combs and me on a conference call, bringing us up to date on what he knew, what he was doing at Keesler, and how it would affect our cities.

I am very proud of the job Keesler Air Force Base has done. And the base pays an important role in the security of our nation. We should remember that Keesler is the electronics training headquarters for the Air Force, is home to the second largest medical facility in the Air Force and has 10,000 students on base on an average day.

General Mercer, you and all people in uniform have the support and prayers of the people of Biloxi. We salute you.

I also want to thank the men and women of our Police and Fire Departments. 9-11 gave us new appreciation and respect for their jobs. And we have called upon them do much more since 9-11 to keep fear in check in our community.

Our Police Department increased its patrols of schools, government buildings and other facilities in the aftermath. Our Fire Department responded to almost 300 more calls than the previous year, and a third of those were reports of suspicious substances in the aftermath of 9-11.

Chief Roberts developed a special unit to handle those calls, and we handled all of them professionally and with your safety as our top concern.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Keeping your community safe is one of the fundamental responsibilities of city government. And we are doing the job here in Biloxi.

Fortunately, the impact of September 11 has not been as devastating to our city as it has been for other tourist destinations across our country. I’ll speak more to that issue in a moment. First, let’s look at the big picture.

When I look at what’s been accomplished during the past eight years, the numbers are staggering. About 40 million dollars in streets and drainage work. Two annexation cases. A 4.2 million-dollar community center. A 9.1 million-dollar public safety center. A million-dollar communication center. A new public safety garage. Millions invested in new fire trucks, police cars and a fire boat. A 35 million-dollar Hope VI program. A 53 million-dollar school construction program.

We’ve increased and enhanced the services we provide to you and we’ve reduced your city property taxes along the way.

Now, to the future.

For all of this work, moving traffic continues to be our major issue. And, let’s make no mistake about this. We are a growing community that relies on tourism. Most of us live or work on this small peninsula. Traffic is always going to be a concern. And if traffic is not a problem, then we’ve got bigger problems.

For our immediate future, there is no bigger issue facing this city than building roads. The difficult and time-consuming task of acquiring land is almost behind us. And we are at the point of beginning actual construction.

In fact, I pledge to you here today that we will begin construction on Bayview Avenue in April. That’s about 90 days from today.

We’ll begin the next phase of widening Popp’s Ferry Road – four-laning from Cedar Lake to Jam Lane, by this summer.

On Caillavet Street, we started with more than 90 pieces of property to acquire. Today, we’re down to a handful. We’re winding down there. We’re going to relocate a few of the businesses in the next several months, and our goal is to begin construction in the first quarter of next year.

Some of you probably want to see this construction work start this afternoon. I wanted to see it start yesterday. But we needed to do the right thing on this. We needed to be fair to the property owners and fair to the taxpayers of Biloxi.

Different people have different ideas on what fair is, but I will tell you this: In some of the cases that have gone to court, the court appraisals were LESS than the city was offering. So, yes, I think we’re being fair. It’s just a tough process.

And speaking of road projects, we’ve been in the news a few times – a few times more than I would have liked – on a couple of road projects. I’m talking about Jam Lane and Crawford Street. I apologize for the delays and particularly the inconvenience to the homeowners on those streets.

I appreciate their patience – at least those who were patient!

But I cannot apologize for making sure that the work was done right – and the city got its money’s worth. I guess I could have dodged the publicity and said OK, pave it and let’s open the road.

But we don’t operate that way. We’d be right back where we were. The road would have been falling apart in a few years, and we’d be back to square one.

You have to understand that we’re not building roads just from the ground up. We’re building them from below the ground. Water, sewer, drainage and utility lines are being replaced.

Curbing and sidewalks are being built – and they’re not small sidewalks a half-inch off the pavement. They’re good sturdy sidewalks to go with well-designed and built roads.

I’m going to make sure we get what we pay for. This reminds me of an e-mail I got the other day from one of my teammates at Ole Miss.

A city fellow moved to the country and bought a mule from an old farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the mule the next day.

The next day, the farmer drove up and said, ìSorry, but I have some bad news. The mule died.î

So the city fellow said, ìWell, then, just give me my money back.î

Can’t do that,î the farmer replied. ìI went and spent it already.î

The city fellow said, ìOK, then. Just unload the mule. I’m going to raffle him off.î

ìYou can’t raffle off a dead mule!î the farmer said.

ìWatch me,î the fellow said. ìI just won’t tell anybody he’s dead.î

A month later the farmer met up with the city fellow and asked, ìWhatever happened with that

dead mule?î

ìI raffled him off,î the fellow said. ìI sold 500 hundred tickets at two dollars apiece and made a net profit of 998 dollars.î

The farmer asked, ìDidn’t anybody complain?î

ìJust the guy who won,î the fellow said. ìSo I gave him his two dollars back.î

I’m here to tell you today that A.J. Holloway is not going to buy any dead mules. And we’re

going to get our money’s worth for every dollar we spend – and it’s going to be done right.

I know the construction management proposal is a tough decision. It’s a change from the past, but it’s a sound business decision, not a political decision.

I continue to work with the City Council to reach an agreement on the construction

management contract as soon as possible.

While moving traffic is the immediate concern, we also have been working on the long-term future and health of our city.

Another major project wrapping up is the comprehensive update of our zoning and land development ordinances and codes. We cherish history here in Biloxi, but our zoning ordinance was an antique. It had served its time.

For the first time in 40 years, our zoning laws are being updated in a comprehensive fashion.

You saw the first step a few months ago, when we enacted stricter guidelines for regulated businesses, like check-cashing and day-labor operations, adult stores and other places that we call regulated uses.

What we did in that first step was establish tighter controls on what happens at these businesses. We’re putting the responsibility on the backs of the owners and operators. Follow the rules or else.

Some people were worried that we were going to put people out of business. That’s not the case. What we want is for everyone to run clean, respectable businesses, and not do anything that is going to hurt our quality of life.

Now, you ask, what more is there to be done? We’re coming forward with the new zoning laws.

They’ll address things like business classifications, setbacks, signage, landscape buffers and other requirements that we have to ensure protection of our neighborhoods.

This project is designed to make our laws easier to read and easier to understand. Let me give you an example. We have a business classification called the CBD, the Central Business District. There are six separate classifications under that one district. I think that’s ridiculous.

That’s being combined to one classification – in plain English that you and I can understand without having to hire two Philadelphia lawyers and an engineer to understand.

The goal is to make it easier to do business in the city. But we also need to have

protections in place, too. As a taxpayer and resident, I realize that property owners and developers have property rights.

But, as Mayor, I also realize that you have to look out for and protect the interests of the city as a whole.

Having said that, I believe that these ordinances will be an important tool to help shape the future of our city.

We continue to address quality of life issues in all areas of the city with emphasis on transportation, drainage and the environment.

In north Biloxi, we are making progress on our 10 million-dollar sports complex. By the end of this year, we’ll have completed three softball fields, a concession stand with covered bleachers, an access road, and plenty of parking.

When all is said and done on this project, we’ll have five softball fields, 8 to 10 tennis courts, four soccer fields and we’re looking at maybe four Little League fields.

Another important project is the Popp’s Ferry causeway park. In the next couple of months, we’ll have our master plan completed.

The goal here is to improve the fishing and boating opportunities, and add nature trails, walking paths and a jogging area.

This is a beautiful piece of waterfront property, and this park will represent a major financial investment for this city. Our work will make this area more accessible to the public.

I also want to thank Supervisor Connie Rockco for her assistance on this.

In Woolmarket, we have purchased 20 acres of property where we are going to locate a fire station, recreational facilities and a water tower to improve water pressure for residents and businesses.

Residents there no longer have to pay for their children to play in our city recreation leagues. But we have more work to do – and we’re doing it.

We’re doing the engineering work to lay water and sewer lines north of Interstate 10. We have dedicated a Public Works crew to handle nothing but the areas north of the Bay – cutting rights of way and maintaining streets and drainage.

In east Biloxi, the oldest section of our city, we have seen more than a billion dollars in commercial development since casinos arrived in 1992.

To meet the need for affordable housing, we are embarking on a three-year initiative that will see more than 15 million dollars invested in revitalizing neighborhoods.

That’s 3 million on Main Street, 3 million for housing rehabilitation, MORE than 3 million on social service agencies, a million to the Housing Authority, a million in HOME funds and 4 million on our intermodal transportation system.

Let’s stop here and explain one thing. Some people call our road projects on Caillavet and Bayview traffic projects. They are, but they are much more than that. They are economic development projects.

These roads are going to not only move traffic, but they are going to create new commercial corridors to provide jobs, strengthen our local economy, and improve our quality of life.

Some say we should be doing the same thing on Main Street. We are, but, frankly, we’re taking a holistic approach. We’re not just looking at Main Street, but the neighborhoods of east Biloxi.

Let me make this clear: In order for an economic development initiative to work on Main Street, you must improve the quality of neighborhoods. You must improve the existing low- to moderate-income households. You must create new affordable housing.

You must create the economic power in order to attract commercial and retail endeavors to east Biloxi.

It’s not just a matter of buying property along Main Street and building new businesses.

I am pleased that the City Council approved our recommendation to hire the Enterprise Foundation to help us make this happen.

The Enterprise Foundation has a history of success with such developments. They are rebuilding America one community at a time.

They’ve done it in some of our country’s biggest and best cities. Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, San Antonio, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Atlanta, to name a few. And now Biloxi will be joining that list.

The Enterprise group brings valuable resources to the table, which will help leverage the city’s three-year, 15 million-dollar investment. They’ll be doing outreach programs in the next couple of months and be ready to implement the plan by this summer.

I believe that our efforts, along with the Housing Authority’s $35 million Hope VI project, will create new promise and new hope for east Biloxi.

Another area that I am proud of is the tremendous strides that we have seen in improving the appearance of our city.

Through our year-old Community Court, we have prompted dozens of property owners to take steps to clean up their weeded or junk property. We’ve enhanced our agreement with BFI so that debris is picked up quicker in front of homes.

We’ve also placed dumpsters at key locations throughout the city neighborhoods for residents to give us a hand.

We call it beautification sometimes, but it’s really just keeping your yards and businesses free of litter and your grass cut. It’s just being a good citizen.

And frankly, that’s what these clean up efforts are going to take – a partnership between government, business and John Doe Citizen. I came before you two years ago at this very event to call for a partnership to help adopt medians along Highway 90.

I thank the Isle of Capri, the Grand, Casino Magic, the President, and Al Copeland Enterprises for all of the work they did in starting this project off.

I also congratulate the Biloxi Bay Chamber and Supervisor Eleuterius for your efforts on building on this median enhancement project along Highway 90.

I am very grateful for the assistance that Supervisors Eleuterius and Rockco give us on projects here in Biloxi. And hope that we continue to see more of it.

The fact is, 81 percent of the people in Harrison County live in a city, and more than 33 percent of the county’s assessed value is right here in Biloxi, so we’ll continue to seek a fair return on those tax dollars.

And, speaking of tax dollars, this brings me to another important issue – city finances. How are we managing since 9-11? Are we meeting budget?

Some of you may have heard that I’m fiscally conservative by nature. Well, I’m guilty, and I’ll continue to be.

For the record, our revenue estimates are right on track for this fiscal year, which runs from last October to next Sept. 30. In our 92 million-dollar revenue budget, we projected 12 million sales tax revenue and 18 million in gaming tax revenue.

We’re about 1 percent behind on sales tax collections, but that small shortfall is offset by a 2.8 percent increase in gaming tax revenue.

But those gaming revenue figures that you see reported on the media and on our web site can be misleading, as all business people may know.

Those gaming revenue figures do not show how much money casinos had to spend in advertising to keep those numbers up.

Now, I know that’s not my problem and it’s not your problem – unless you’re the GM at one of the casinos. All we should care about is the tax revenue, right? Wrong. If the bottom line begins to hurt, then you’ll see layoffs like we’ve seen before.

Jobs are the key to the economy

Frankly, I hope that we have turned the corner economically. Fortunately, we are more insulated than places like Las Vegas or Hawaii, which depend heavily on air travel.

And, I believe that our hospitality industry – our small hotels and restaurants and shops – have built a reputation for good service and affordable prices.

And for Southern hospitality. That’s one common thread among each of these speeches I have made to you each year – my pride in the can-do spirit and the resilience of this city and its people.

We are continuing to enjoy unprecedented prosperity in this city. This city is indeed headed in the right direction. The state of our city continues to be strong.

God bless each of you, God bless Biloxi, and God bless America.

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