Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address delivered Feb. 23, 2000 during a luncheon at the Isle of Capri Crowne Plaza Resort sponsored by the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce. Good afternoon. I am proud to come before you again for the State of the City address.
The state of our city is better than at any other time in our 300-year history, and we are making tremendous progress on a number of
projects that will even further improve the quality of city services and continue to improve our outstanding quality of life.
Before I continue, I want to recognize a few people who are here today:
Ward 1 Councilman Tom Ferrill Ward 2 Councilman Eric Dickey Ward 3 Councilman Jim Compton Ward 4 Councilman Charles T.
Harrison Jr. Ward 5 Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick, who also serves as Council President Ward 6 Councilman Tom Wall Ward 7 Councilman Bill Fluty
And, the department directors, who oversee our city
workforce of more than 500 employees:
Chief Administrative Officer David Nichols Community Development Director David Staehling Fire Chief David Roberts Legal Director Ronnie Cochran Parks &
Recreation Director Nathan Sullivan Police Chief Tommy Moffett Public Works Director Jerry Morgan
And, of course, my personal director, Macklyn Holloway, and my daughter, Heather.
proud of the job that these directors do to help make our city a better place to live and work, and I hope that youíll join me in applauding them.
Weíre going to spend the next several minutes
talking about the past year, updating you on current projects and, finally, looking into the future.
1999 was a remarkable year. Our school system achieved an unprecedented level of excellence;
the voters of Biloxi came together and said they want to see better school facilities throughout our city; we broke ground on a 10-million-dollar Public Safety Center, a million-dollar state-of-the-art
Communications Center and a four-point-two million-dollar West Biloxi Community Center; we began tearing down public housing that was built when Franklin Roosevelt was President; and we annexed about 34
square miles north of the city, almost doubling the size of the city in land mass.
Along the way, weíve seen an extraordinary thing happen: This city has witnessed more public dialogue — and
more positive action from your government — than weíve seen in many years.
Consider some recent examples:
Dozens of Woolmarket residents came out to our three zoning hearings and gave us
their views on the zoning for their property. In an overwhelming majority of those cases, we arrived at a satisfactory compromise.
Many of our residents in West Biloxi and north Biloxi have been
rightfully concerned about the routes for the north-south connector. In response, we have a committee of citizens watching this process closely. I am hopeful that this committee will come forward soon
with a recommendation to MDOT on the best route and we keep this lengthy process on track. This committee has an important task, and I know that you agree that we need to wrap up that work and make a
recommendation that will be best for all of Biloxi.
And, letís not forget about one of the most publicized of the public dialogues that we have seen in the past year ñ the talk of the city
acquiring the property next to Tullis Manor.
To be honest, I had my concerns about the city paying such a huge price for that property for a park, and I think many of you shared those concerns.
But most of you embraced the idea of using this site for the Ohr-OíKeefe Museum of Art. Your voices were heard on the city web site and in the newspaper, and your city is taking action.
you realize that what you are seeing happen here in Biloxi is not always the case in government.
Some people joke that the best committee is a committee of one. And I have to tell you some of my
fellow mayors across the state are leery of taking too much advice. As incoming president of the Mississippi Municipal League, I get to hear from all sorts of Mayors from the stateís 297 cities and
Seriously, I know that government must be responsive to the people, but we also have an overriding obligation to do what is right for EVERYONE in the community. You also expect to see
This is the seventh time that I have come before you for the State of the City address. Each year, I outline a litany of programs and projects. This year is no different. I donít know if
a lot of people realize the tremendous magnitude of our public works in progress.
We currently have more than 40 MILLION dollars worth of city projects either coming out of the ground or in the
engineering stages. NEVER has this city seen this amount of work. If we were to have actual construction underway on every project we have under contract, you would not be able to drive the streets of
Biloxi for the overwhelming amount of roads being reconstructed or paved. Weíll give you a handout to take with you as you leave here today, but let me tell you about a few of the highlights:
Public safety construction. Weíre months ahead of schedule on the Public Safety Center on Porter Avenue, and the Communications Center for our police and fire departments will be operational right after
By the end of this year, weíll open the West Biloxi Community Center, with its lap and therapeutic pools, basketball and racquetball courts, space for Mardi Gras balls and parties,
meeting rooms, and an elevated indoor walking track.
Another multi-million-dollar initiative is our traffic improvement program. We are building a new boulevard next to Caillavet Street, a major
thoroughfare along Bayview Avenue, and widening Poppís Ferry Road. Next month, weíll begin demolishing several structures on Caillavet, Elk and Anglada streets. Weíre continuing to make offers to
property owners. As of today, we have paid out 1.8 million dollars to acquire property along Caillavet, and we have another 5.8 million dollars in offers on the table. Of note, the city owns 20 of the 95
parcels that we need to move forward on this project.
On Bayview Avenue, we have to acquire 42 parcels, and weíve made offers on six parcels — amounting to about a quarter-million dollars.
This process of acquiring property is very time-consuming because weíre trying to be fair to everyone — fair to the property owners and fair to the taxpayers of Biloxi. But as weíre making offers to
acquire property, our engineers are working behind the scenes on the design of both roadways. I am happy to report to you that 98 percent of the design work on Bayview has been completed, and 80 percent
of the design work on Caillavet has been completed.
On Poppís Ferry Road, you can see workers widening sections of this busy street now. Youíll be seeing orange barrels along Poppís Ferry Road
for the next couple of years. Work also will begin shortly on a new road that will connect Richard Drive and Jam Lane, with another connection to Poppís Ferry Road.
While weíre making progress on
these major projects, weíre also continuing the massive task of rebuilding streets and drainage in all areas of the city.
Right now, we have major projects under contract at Bohn Street,
Briarfield, Brady Drive, Brister Place, Dorries Street and in other areas throughout our city.
Those are the big-ticket items. Our individual departments are also making some major improvements
that mean enhanced service to you day in and day out.
One of the most significant steps weíve taken towards enhancing service is in Parks and Recreation.
Several months ago, a few of the
people in Parks & Recreation came to me with the idea of dropping all of the fees that city residents pay for our youth leagues. I said crunch some numbers and letís take a look at it.
worked it into the budget, and the results have been amazing. Soccer has always been our biggest sport, with about 700 kids participating each year. Today, we have more than 1,000 kids participating in
soccer. In pee-wee football league, weíve seen the number of players and cheerleaders skyrocket, too, from 600 kids last year to 725 this year.
Overall, thatís a 30 percent increase in
participation, and weíre only a third of the way into the budget year.
That shows that we are making more activities more available to more residents ñ and weíre saving residents between $25 to
$75 a year by wiping out this fee, which, to me, is just like cutting a tax.
This kind of success also means that weíre going to need more room to play, and weíre addressing that need, too.
This afternoon, we are opening bids on a half-million-dollar project that will see the addition of a large soccer field, six tennis courts, basketball courts, an area set aside for picnic tables, and
140 parking spaces at our Poppís Ferry soccer complex. All of it will be well-lighted and it well designed. Our goal is to have the soccer field ready for play in November.
At Hiller Park, we
have two lighted basketball courts under construction right now, but the real big news is whatís happening at the 75-acre recreational complex that we are developing with the school system.
now, we are addressing some wetlands issues, but this summer, the county should begin clearing land for phase one of this project, which will be the construction of five softball fields, a concession
area and parking. Thatís phase one of the project, which will be an investment of about 4 million dollars. Weíll also have a mile and a quarter walking trail and a cross country running trail. Phase 2
will see four soccer fields, and Phase 3 will include 10 tennis courts.
Weíre probably looking at a 10 million dollar project before all is said and done, but it will be something that will be a
great asset for our city. Iím glad to see us get this underway.
We donít have a city gymnasium or recreation center right now in Woolmarket, but I would like to see us provide some after-hours
recreation activities at the Woolmarket Elementary School gym. I have directed our Recreation Department to begin pursuing this.
We are also looking for land for permanent recreation facilities
in Woolmarket, as well as land for another fire station in that area.
By the way, we have been very successful in bringing city level services to Woolmarket, and I appreciate the patience, the
understanding, and even the compliments that we have received from a number of residents, not a large number, but a number.
We have already spent more than a million dollars on paving roads, and
upgrading fire and police protection, which has meant lower insurance rates.
Youíve probably heard about some new technology being used in the Biloxi Fire Department. Itís called a thermal
imaging camera. Our department has three of them, strategically located at stations throughout the city.
Whatís so great about these cameras? They help firefighters find occupants in a house fire
and maybe even where the fire originated. This helps them put it out quicker. And for our residents in Woolmarket, where we donít currently have an unlimited supply of water, this makes our firefighting
efforts much more effective.
This may not mean a lot to you here today, but just ask George Junkert, who has a business in west Biloxi. The use of this new technology saved him thousands of
dollars because the cameras showed where the fire was burning and avoided thousands of dollars of water damage inside his business.
Weíve made the transition from having a small-town fire
department to having a big-city fire department that has the training and the equipment to meet todayís challenges.
Our Public Works Department continues to oversee and coordinate the record
levels of neighborhood streets and drainage improvements. In the past year, the department completed 11 major projects, including drainage projects for McDonnell Avenue, Edgewater Park, C.T. Switzer
Drive, Lakeview/Fairview and Sharon Hills. Right now, they have more than two dozen projects under construction, 9 other projects either awarded or out for bid, and 20 more projects in the design phase.
You know, some people wonder where weíre putting the revenue from taxes on casino gambling revenue. Like Iíve said before, itís all around you. We also had provided 2.7 million dollars to social
service agencies and programs, the largest amount in the history of our city.
Just take a look at all of the projects we have going on in all sections of our city, and consider the fact that
weíve been able to cut city taxes and other fees at the same time. Consider this: The city of Biloxi has the lowest water and sewer rates, the lowest garbage fees, and the lowest school taxes of all of
the cities on the Gulf Coast, and probably any city in the state.
This issue of taxes is going to be coming up in a couple of months.
In April, the county is scheduled to be mailing out
the new property values as part of countywide reappraisal. This is the first countywide reappraisal since 1986, and reappraisal normally means that your taxes will be adjusted ñ in an upward fashion.
Today, I am here to pledge to you that as Mayor I am going to do everything that I can to see that that does not happen in Biloxi. We have established a pattern in the past seven years since I have
been your Mayor. We have had incremental decreases in taxes, and in seven years, we have reduced taxes by about 10 percent.
I want to see this trend continue, and I hope members of the City
Council work with me to achieve that goal.
I also hope that the City Council works with me in reducing any property tax increase that may occur because of reappraisal. With the vibrant economy
that we have here in Biloxi, I know that we can do this, and we can continue to accomplish the many major projects that we have underway.
I think we can do this because our economy continues to
thrive. In the past year, the Community Development Department issued more than 3,600 permits ñ including 345 commercial building permits and 1,157 residential building permits. Think about that for a
Thatís 345 commercial building permits ñ more than one a day for every working day of the year ñ and more than 1,100 residential building permits ñ nearly three permits a day seven days a
week. Weíve accomplished this growth in an environmentally sensitive manner. Like you, we are proud of our city.
Along those lines, weíre also working to make sure that ALL property is cleared of
abandoned houses, weeds, junk, trash or abandoned vehicles. Community Development has handled about 1,700 cases in the past year. Weíve tripled the number of cases weíre handling in the past several
years. Our efforts have either forced or prompted property owners to clean up their property, which helps improve the appearance of the entire neighborhood.
Speaking of the appearance of
neighborhoods, last year I came before you to talk about a couple of programs to help beautify and clean up our city.
The first idea was to form adopt-a-median partnerships, where businesses
adopt medians along the highway, the county cuts the grass around the plantings, and the city waters it.
Weíve had great success here, and I also want to commend the Biloxi Bay Chamber for the
efforts in this area. Weíre going to be recognizing our partners this summer.
The other part of the beautification effort was to use defendants from the municipal court to pick up litter along
It sounded like a great idea at the time, and it works in some cities. It didnít work here in Biloxi. Let me tell you why: We have a high rate of employment. Everyone has a job.
Theyíd much rather pay their fine instead of working off the fine.
But Iím here to tell you today that we must not and we will not give up on this issue. This problem cannot be solved by your
city government alone.
Like so many things, it takes a team effort. We are in the process of contacting all civic groups, church groups, schools, public housing leaders, and so on to join our
Today, I am announcing that weíre going to be taking part in a two-day countywide clean up in March, and here in Biloxi, weíre also going to have three other clean ups throughout the year.
Weíll have city workers working side by side with volunteers picking up trash and litter throughout our city.
Iím sure that Supervisors Bobby Eleuterius and Connie Rockco will pitch in with some
manpower. I hope that you and your family will decide to take part in this effort.
This ambitious clean-up effort is only one of the major initiatives youíll be seeing this year.
2000 is the year of vision for the City of Biloxi. Since 1992, when casinos arrived, we have been rebuilding our infrastructure, refurbishing and preserving our historic homes and neighborhoods, keeping
our city safe, overseeing an orderly growth, and doing these things with an eye to the future.
Weíre seeing the results of our hard work. Better streets and drainage. Lower taxes. In short, weíre
making this city a great place for you and me to live and work.
Things are going great in Biloxi, but weíre also taking it a step further. We want it to be an even greater place for our children
So often, people here in Biloxi look around at the growth and the changes that continue to take place in our community and worry that weíre losing our character, our small-town
charm. Some wonder if theyíll recognize our city in 10 years. I understand how some people might have those concerns.
As your Mayor, and as a father and grandfather, I share those concerns. And
Iím working everyday to make sure that MY children and MY grandchildren will live and play in the Biloxi that you and I love. And I think that weíre taking steps to make sure of that.
You can see
it in the projects that weíve done at Tullis Manor, at the Dantzler House, the Old Brick House and upcoming projects like the expansion of the Seafood Industry Museum, revitalizing our downtown area,
and, yes, the relocation of the Ohr-OíKeefe Museum of Art, and the parkway project on Poppís Ferry Road.
I also want to applaud the University of Southern Mississippi for its recommendation last
week to expand and upgrade the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Point Cadet.
This aquarium is an asset to the City of Biloxi, and I personally have worked over the years to try
to convince USM to keep this facility in Biloxi.
This recommendation by USM points to a promising future for the aquarium and its research mission, and I am very happy that J.L. Scott is staying
Having said that, I also believe that the Institutes of Higher Learning, Secretary of State Eric Clark and other leaders should not stand in the way of the proposed Isle of Capri
In addition to the aquarium expansion, USM recommended an IMAX theater and setting aside of green space on Point Cadet.
I endorse these proposals, and, in fact, they are in line
with the new Isle of Capri lease. Furthermore, the Isle lease could provide a revenue stream to help fund these projects.
The Isle is a vital partner for the City of Biloxi. In the past year, we
were able to provide record levels of social service funding to agencies here in Biloxi, due in no small part to the existing lease.
This new lease would be good for the City of Biloxi, the IHL
and the State of Mississippi.
As Mayor, of course, my first obligation is to the people of Biloxi. We have invested quite a time and tax dollars in Point Cadet, and we must protect that
Earlier I spoke about public dialogue, and how successful we have been in that dialogue. Next week, your city government will embark on one of the most important public dialogues that
this community has seen in 40 years.
For the first time since 1959, we are updating all of our city zoning ordinances. Those of you who have come before us on zoning issues, or for regulated use
requests or conditional use requests know the problems.
It seems as if some of these ordinances were written in a foreign language. Weíre going to make them user friendly, easy to understand, but
theyíll also help shape the future of our city for years to come. And I donít mean in selected areas of our city ñ but throughout all of our city.
In closing, I want to remind you that ideas like
a quarterly clean-up or revitalizing our downtown area are ones that we can start at City Hall, but they wonít go anywhere unless you speak out, unless you make your voices heard.
The people of
Woolmarket turned out in good numbers when we had the zoning meetings out there, and their voices were heard. We DO listen. We ARE responsive.
But if we want to make this the year of vision, the
year of the future, youíre going to have to play your role. Vision, like success, must be shared to be enjoyed.
I know that most of the people of Biloxi have never had a problem speaking their
minds, so I know I can count on you. God bless you and God bless Biloxi.