Here is the text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address, delivered Feb. 22, 1999, during a luncheon sponsored by the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce at the Grand Bayview Hotel.
Thank you for that kind welcome. I’m delighted to see such a great turnout.
I want to congratulate Don Marie and Lucy Denton and
the rest of the leadership of the Biloxi Bay Chamber on making this decision to move the State of the City from the evening to lunchtime.
I have a lot of great things to tell you about today.
Don Wylie suggested that I show you a 10- or 15- minute video today about all of the major projects in the city.
Don thought we could hire a professional announcer to narrate the video. He
said I could do a 2 or 3 minute introduction and then show the video. Thanks, Don, I’m glad that you included me in there somewhere.
All of you know me. I like being in the office making sure
everybody’s earning their city paycheck and that things are moving. In the past few years, I’ve gotten a little more comfortable dealing with the media and giving speeches.
I have three rules on giving speeches:
1. Stand up tall so all of you can see me. 2. Speak loud so all of you can hear me. 3. And most important, keep it short so all of you will like me. I just
couldn’t bring myself to spend $10,000 of your money on a video, because I think all of you can see the work we’re doing.
Instead, I want to spend a few minutes telling you what we’ve been doing
in the past year, what you’re going to be seeing us do in the coming year, and I want to ask each of you to show your love for our City.
Before I begin my presentation, I want to pause and
recognize a few people who help run this city.
The members of the City Council:
Ward 1, Tom Ferrill Ward 2, Eric Dickey Ward 3, Jim Compton Ward 4, Charles T. Harrison Jr. Ward 5, Mike
Fitzpatrick Ward 6, Tom Wall, who is also Council president. Ward 7, Bill Fluty. And the department directors, who oversee the city workforce of just under 500 employees:
Officer David Nichols Community Development Director David Staehling Fire Chief Floyd Thibodeaux Legal Director Ronnie Cochran Parks & Recreation Director Nathan Sullian Police Chief Tommy Moffett
Public Works Director Jerry Morgan And, of course, my boss, Macklyn Holloway. I would also like to recognize my daughter, Heather.
Today, after six years of unprecedented growth and prosperity in
our city and 300 years after being settled by the explorer d’Iberville, we can say that Biloxi is in better shape than it has ever been in its history.
Our economy is strong and vibrant. The
growth is continuing throughout our city, and all of the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
Your city is meeting the challenges and we are moving forward, ready to usher in the next
This is a great time for me to be delivering the State of the City address. Just look around:
- Our Fire Department, which has undergone nearly 4,000 man hours of training over
the past year, put that training to the test a few weeks ago.
Our firefighters saved three lives after an accident near the top of the 30-story Beau Rivage hotel. It was a tense situation where
the members of the Biloxi Fire Department showed professionalism and talent. They came through in the clutch and I’m very proud of them.
- Perhaps one of the most significant achievements in our
city, is what’s happening in our public schools. A couple of months ago, a national business magazine named Biloxi schools as the only blue-ribbon system in our state.
And, just last week, for
the first time in our history, the Mississippi Department of Education has rated Biloxi Public Schools at Level 5, meaning our students and teachers have achieved the highest rating possible.
quality of a school system is one of the key factors that new residents and business owners consider when relocating. It also says that our students are being well prepared for the challenges facing them
in future years.
My fellow citizens, these are just a couple of the most recent reasons that we have to be proud. Today, I’m going to be telling you what we are doing at City Hall to help keep
this city prepared for the future.
Our priority continues to be relieving traffic congestion in our city. We have embarked on a $35 million traffic improvement program that will be financed
without a tax increase.
The biggest complaint I have, and I am sure that you agree, is how long it takes to build a major road.
The biggest reason is because 85 percent of our peninsula
is developed. We’re all living on a crowded strip of land, and there are a lot of us. On Caillavet Street alone, we’re dealing with 95 parcels of property. On Bayview, we’re dealing with 36 parcels. And
in both cases, we’re dealing with some people who don’t want to move, and I can understand that.
But as Mayor, I have to do what’s best for all of Biloxi, and we need these improvements.
We’re moving forward at deliberate speed, making sure to make the right decisions.
We’re having to uproot families who have done business or lived in these locations all of their lives. It’s not
a process that neither I nor the City Council take lightly.
We are currently doing appraisals on property on Caillavet Street. We hope to have all of the appraisals completed by October. As we
perform the appraisals, we’ll be making offers and acquiring property along the way.
In fact, we’ll be making the first offers on property next month, and we could have — and I emphasize COULD
HAVE — all of the needed property acquired by the end of the year.
We have to have all of the property acquired, and all of the businesses and residents relocated before we can begin
construction, and we’re shooting to begin construction in 2001.
On Bayview, where we have 36 parcels to acquire, we will begin appraisals in June and begin acquiring property in July.
Construction will begin as soon as we can in the year 2000.
You’ll be able to see the results of our ongoing project to improve the traffic situation on Popp’s Ferry Road in the next several
The first phase of this project – building a new road from Richard Drive to Jam Lane, across the school property – will go out for bids in September, and we’ll start work shortly
Another facet of our traffic improvement program concerns Main Street, where Councilmember Eric Dickey and a number of his constituents have been meeting with the Administration to
help devise the best plan to widen Main Street and redevelop this area of our city.
We don’t want to leave anyone behind in our plans to improve the flow of traffic and the quality of life in
I am happy to report to you that our ambitious project to upgrade our Public Safety facilities in Biloxi is underway.
Lloyd T. Moon Contractors is working on a 5,000 square
foot building in Ward 7 that will house our fire and police dispatchers. This communications building is the backbone of our police and fire departments. These dispatchers, who handle our 911 emergency
calls, are the link between the public and the police and fire departments.
Why did we want to see this Communications center being build on Popp’s Ferry Road? For a couple of reasons.
The biggest is that this facility must be out of harm’s way – away from the railroad tracks and able to operate before, during and after a hurricane.
Another reason is that we want to construct a
new fire station, a training facility and a police substation all on this same piece of property. We’ll have this accomplished within the next two years.
The Communications building will be
totally self-supporting, with special heating and cooling for the high-tech communications equipment. It will have its own generator to run all of the equipment and provide emergency power. Construction
will cost about $650,000, and we should be completed and operational by the end of this year.
This project will provide an increased presence for our police and fire departments in one of the
fastest growing areas of our city.
And believe me, the area off Cedar Lake and Popp’s Ferry roads are THE fastest growing area of our city:
- The school board broke ground last week on
its first school to be constructed across the bay; – the Catholic Diocese is building there;
- there’s an $30 million medical complex coming out of the ground,
– Franklin Kyle and his group are also building a new apartment complex in the area
- The engineering firm of Brown & Mitchell have an office complex under construction;
– and the new Harley-Davidson shop and showroom are both taking shape.
Additionally, the Harrison County Development Commission is developing the 104-acre Biloxi Commerce Park.
I am also
here today to report to you that the firm of Fountain and Lamas is in its final phases of design for our new public safety center to be located on Porter Avenue.
This building will be over 66,000 square feet and will be two stories.
It’s a building that will put us in a great position to meet the needs of a growing city.
It’s also something that
is sorely needed for the men and women who are having to work each day in a converted school building that was constructed in 1929.
This building also will house our Municipal Courtroom and court
staff. We’ll be able to provide the court some badly needed space to accommodate its increased caseload.
The new building will offer a unique two-floor lobby, a skylight to offer natural light,
and three bays for our fire trucks. Most important is that the building will be very durable, and made of pre-cast concrete and steel.
I would like to see this building go out for bids in April,
and I would like to see construction start in late May.
These projects are important for the city because we’ve seen our police department almost double in size over the past several years.
We’ve continued to hire more men and purchase more equipment for the fire department, and now we need to upgrade the facilities where they work.
I want to tell you that I’m proud of the work
that these men and women do for this city.
Despite all of the dramatic growth that we’ve seen in our city in the past few years, there’s one thing that we haven’t seen: an increase in crime.
Once you get that stigma, you never lose it. That’s not a problem for us here in Biloxi, and that’s due in no small part to the job our men and women are doing everyday.
I would also like to
commit to you today that by the end of the year we will identify property on Point Cadet for a new fire station to replace the aging building that currently houses our East End firefighters. We need a
station to better serve our needs for this growing area. This new station also will allow us to move one of our aerial platform trucks to Point Cadet.
Another area that will be receiving more
attention is the Vieux Marche. I’m excited about Jerry O’Keefe’s drive to see a new George Ohr Arts and Cultural Center built.
In six to eight weeks, Biloxi Regional will break ground on its
medical office building and parking garage.
Today, I also want to announce to you that the City of Biloxi has accepted an invitation from Tulane University’s School of Architecture to incorporate
a design that will include all of these facets in a well-planned scheme for downtown Biloxi.
We want to make our Vieux Marche a proud centerpiece of our city.
Another issue that’s still
on the table is annexation. As you know, we were awarded about 34 square miles of land north of the city by a special chancellor in 1997.
The issue is now before the State Supreme Court. The City
Council and I will be receiving a status report from our annexation attorneys tomorrow.
As I’ve said before, we need this new land to ensure orderly growth of our city. I’m confident that this
case will move forward in our favor.
In the area of recreation, the City of Biloxi and Biloxi Public Schools should begin clearing land in the next couple of months for a 61-acre recreational
complex that will include soccer fields, softball and baseball fields, tennis courts, a 5-K cross country track and a walking track. This is a $10 million project.
This year, the City has
budgeted $1 million so we can get this thing moving forward at the school property off Popp’s Ferry Road.
Our city engineers are currently reviewing the plans for the West Biloxi Community
Center. We expect this project to be out for bid shortly.
Next week, we hope to award a contract to convert our East Division Street facility back into a neighborhood gymnasium. This facility had
been previously used for head start classes.
As we continue to work on these major projects, we are still providing the essential service that you expect from your city government. Over in our
Community Development Department, we are continuing to issue permits for new businesses at a rate of 30 to 50 a month.
We also issued 813 residential building permits and 351 commercial building
permits during the year, accounting for a total of $106.9 million in construction. The biggest growth, I believe, was in residential development, both in single family and multi-family construction.
One of the most significant improvements that we have seen in Community Development in the past year is how we track all of this growth. It’s a program called Pipeline Management.
computerized program allows any of our people to instantly check the status of service calls. In the past, the staff had seven different databases of information for each of the divisions in the
Now, they can check instantly. It’s not just a matter of working harder, but working smarter to give you the service you expect and, frankly, the service you deserve.
also continuing to see that kind of effeciency in Public Works, where we are continuing to oversee major neighborhood streets and drainage projects.
Some of you may have noticed that huge sewer
project on Division Street. We were replacing a 10-inch pipe with a 24-inch pipe to better handle the increased amount of sewage. You saw the big pipe out in the street, but what you didn’t see was
months and months of tearing up the street and months and months of delays.
That’s because we tunneled under the street and we were able to do this work in a fraction of the time it normally
More important for residents and businesses, we were able to keep Division Street open throughout the process. This is the kind of innovation that we are constantly looking for to help us
do a better job for you.
You see the same thing over in the Police Department. Our people are out doing an outstanding job of making our streets and neighborhoods safer, but we take it a step
further. In addition to enforcing the laws, our officers are also making note of other things like burned out street lights, and other safety hazards, and turning in work orders to the proper department.
Like I said, it’s not just working harder, but working smarter.
That’s what’s happening on the streets. Let’s talk about what’s happening inside City Hall.
I was very proud of
some news we received from our auditors several months ago. For the first time in two decades, the City of Biloxi received a clean audit.
One of the reasons is that we have been able to
accurately document and catalog all of the city’s fixed assets and provide a clear and accurate accounting of ALL city property.
Going back 20 years to check things while keeping track of the
millions of dollars in equipment purchases we’ve made in the past several years was no easy task.
This was a massive undertaking, but a clean audit was one of my biggest goals as your mayor. I
congratulate our accounting and finance staff, and all city departments, for achieving this milestone.
We’ve also adopted and we are adhering to a strict accounting and financial management
Another part of my goal to get our financial house in order was to improve this city’s credit rating. As many of you know, we were near bankruptcy several years ago. Council President
Tom Wall and I made presentations to a Wall Street rating board last year, and as a result of the job we are doing managing your city and managing your tax dollars, our rating was improved.
This means lower interest payments, saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As your Mayor, I will not be satisfied until this city receives an “A” credit rating, and I think we are
working to that end.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, while we’re accomplishing all of these things we’ve been able to provide tax breaks along the way. In fact, over the past 6 years, we’ve
been able to reduce your taxes by 12 mills – or about 10 percent. Frankly, I’d like to be able to continue these tax breaks over the next 6 years or so.
I want to thank each of you for your
support and words of encouragement on the job we’re doing at City Hall. The City Council and I know the challenges that we face, and we know that, like us, you want to see this city be the best it can
While we have many reasons to be proud of where we are today, there is still much room for improvement.
This brings me to how you can all help – and believe me, we need your help.
In my inaugural address in July 1997, I challenged our business owners and residents to show their pride by keeping their property and their neighborhoods well-kept and litter-free.
you in this room – both individually and as members of the chamber – have taken steps to help rid our city of litter.
But there is so much more that we can do. This community is eagerly
anticipating next month’s opening of Beau Rivage. We’ve already seen the tremendous impact that the existing casinos have had on our community. They’ve all exceeded our expectations in terms of
employment, tourism and in improving our economy.
They’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars, and now it’s time for us to show similar pride.
Today, I am re-stating this challenge
to you: Help keep our city clean. It’s one of the most important things that we can do to improve the quality of life in our city, and instill pride in our residents, and bring a smile to our visitors
Today, I am also announcing a new program that will put dozens of workers on our city streets. For the past several weeks, we have been meeting with our two city court judges, Gig Tisdale
and Eugene Henry, and we have devised a program that will go a long way to cleaning up our city.
It’s called the COP program. That’s Citizens on Litter Patrol. The judges will be signing a court
order this week formally instituting this program.
We’ll have as many as two crews a week from traffic court working hand-in-hand every day in all parts of this city picking up litter along our
roadsides. I hope I don’t see any of my friends out there.
Additionally, my staff and I will be making the rounds in the next few weeks, challenging businesses and civic groups to step forward
and adopt the median in front of their businesses.
I am quite pleased with the efforts that the Biloxi Bay Chamber has shown in helping beautify our city. Judy Steckler has quite an ambitious
project this year with a program to plant 300 trees during our 300th year.
In the next few weeks, we’ll have maps identifying areas around the city where trees can be planted. This is an
ambitious project and it will require a lot of work, but it will be very much worth the effort.
Frankly, I would like to see all of our high profile areas adopted, and today I issue this
challenge. I want to see at least 20 high-profile areas adopted in this city, to work in partnership with the city to make our community a much more appealing place to live and work.
continue to do everything we can at City Hall to see the major projects come to fruition, we must continue to build a strong partnership, a team effort, to make things the best they can be.
hoping you’ll take the lapel stickers you’re wearing to heart, and be a part of the team, to work for Biloxi. Our city will be a much better place if we all work together with a common goal.
I know you’ll make us a winning team.
Thank you, and God bless you and God bless Biloxi.