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Mayoral candidates trade barbs in Ocean Springs debate

Mayoral hopefuls Moran, McKay debate issues affecting Ocean Springs
By Karen Nelson | Sun Herald | May 1, 2013

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GLENN ANDREWS/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD Ocean Springs mayoral candidate John McKay, left shakes hands with his opponent, incumbent Connie Moran, right, at the start of a debate between the two candidates Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at the Ocean Springs Civic Center in Ocean Springs.  GLENN ANDREWS

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Mayoral candidate John McKay and Mayor Connie Moran went toe to toe Tuesday night for more than 90 minutes on issues of city spending, budget control and what's best for the future.

John McKay, a longtime Jackson County supervisor, painted a picture of a city in dire straits with out-of-control spending and little money in reserves, possibly facing a deficit.

And he blamed the mayor.

Moran touted the city's accomplishments under her eight years of leadership since Katrina, including downtown improvements and new buildings and parks. She said if the Board of Aldermen hadn't reduced taxes by 2 mills last budget year, the city would have an additional $1.2 million in reserves.

She advocated attracting more businesses to share homeowners' property-tax burden and implied McKay and Jackson County use Ocean Springs as "the piggy bank of Jackson County," because property values are high, so taxes are high.

 McKay said property taxes are high because Ocean Springs is successful.

"When home values go up, taxes go up," he said. "If you want lower taxes, move to Gulf Park Estates or Hurley."

They both agreed schools get a large percentage of the tax dollars, but it's worth it to have a school system that attracts residents and businesses.

The debate was part of a political forum McKay funded as part of

his campaign. It started with fried chicken dinner for 300, then the first hour was an opportunity for alderman candidates to speak. But the main attraction was the mayoral debate.

"She takes all the glory for everything that happens, but with things like the budget crunch, it's the aldermen's fault," McKay said at one point.

He accused Moran of not being a strong enough leader on tough issues. He blamed her for the costly lawsuit the city is embroiled in because the Board of Aldermen went against city planners and advice and refused to allow Psycamore mental health clinic to move in at the entrance to Iberville Drive.

McKay said Moran has veto power and could have stopped that mistake.

But Moran said McKay misunderstood the law. Her veto power didn't apply in that situation, because aldermen were voting against something. A mayor's veto doesn't work under those circumstances, she said.

Moran said with forward thinking, the city has the right of way it needs for widening U.S. 90 east toward Mississippi 57. She called the state Department of Transportation project the biggest thing for the city since rebuilding the Biloxi Bay Bridge after Katrina, with its amenities and the popular walking path.

She promised to oversee the highway project with the same diligence.

She suggested McKay was seeking the job to increase his state retirement because mayor of Ocean Springs is a big increase in pay from the salary of a member of the Board of Supervisors.

McKay said that wasn't the case -- that with giving up his Social Security and other income while he held the mayor's job, it would be a wash or a loss.

McKay touted his work for Ocean Springs as a county supervisor and said he ran for the county seat more than a decade ago to make sure Ocean Springs got its fair share of county money.

"We've gotten more than our fair share," he said.