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Tit-for-tat makes Ocean Springs debate lively, interesting

Moran, McKay aldermen share stances on issues

By Karen Nelson | Sun Herald | May 14, 2013

mayoral-debate-may-14-2013 

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Ocean Springs mayoral candidates Connie Moran, left, and John McKay shake hands after debting during during a political forum at the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs on Tuesday May 14, 2013.
JOHN FITZHUGH — SUN HERALD

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Candidates for mayor provided a stark contrast in their picture of city finances and where the city is headed.

Shooting back and forth on issues of city money reserves, beautification and whether the county is setting property values high and using the city as a piggy bank, the candidates -- Mayor Connie Moran and Jackson County Supervisor John McKay -- stirred the crowd to cheers and occasional jeers.

It was a lively debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center to a crowd of what appeared to be more than 200.

McKay said the city is projected to have an $80,000 deficit at the end of the budget year this fall and he can provide the leadership "to avoid an impending crisis."

Moran, defending her eight years in office, said according to figures she received today, the city has a $843,000 general-fund reserve and a $770,000 emergency fund for a total reserve of $1.6 million. She said that figure hits the recommended safety net of 12 percent of the city's operating budget.

The crowd on and off cheered her optimism.

She said the $2.7 million McKay says the city needs would be closer to 20 percent and would be akin to stockpiling money when the city has needs.

In comparison, she said, Jackson County has a reserve that's only 10 percent of its general fund.

She said Ocean Springs has a AA bond rating, one of the best for a city on the Coast.

"If you're proud of our city, go to the polls and vote for Connie Moran and we'll continue to progress," she said.

McKay said he has been endorsed by two state representatives, the lieutenant governor and the city Board of Aldermen. And he said he was proud to report State Auditor Stacey Pickering's office is not investigating him for two deep-sea fishing trips he took last year with the state Department of Marine Resources, a state agency that is under investigation by state and federal agencies for its spending practices.

McKay said the city deserves a proven leader, adding he has helped send more than the city's fair share of county money to Ocean Springs. He said he will restore relations between the Board of Aldermen and the mayor.

Moran said she spearheaded projects after Katrina and got $40 million in grants at a cost to the city of only 3 percent, 10 percent of which was spent on downtown, "contrary to what you have heard."

McKay said he has worked for the city for 42 years, as an alderman, department head and county supervisor. Moran said she was born and raised here and has 18 years' experience in state, local and international public service.

McKay accused her of "throwing the aldermen under the bus" on spending, when she should "have enough guts to say we can't afford that."

Moran said building permits are up 52 percent, sales-tax revenue is up and so are other tax projections. The city has cut its budget 23 percent in recent years and is fiscally responsible.

"She keeps throwing out rosy numbers," McKay said. "But evidently she's keeping them from the Board of Aldermen because every one of them" has talked of fiscal problems.

He said her zeal to plant oak trees in bays jutting into Government Street was not planned well, as they are over sewer lines and could tear up sidewalks as they grow.

She said she did what people said they wanted after Katrina -- Government Street to have a tree canopy like popular Washington Avenue.

McKay accused her of poking MDOT in the eye over the rebuilding of the Biloxi Bay Bridge after Katrina when she held out for the walking path. He suggested he would be the better candidate to work with the state agency in the widening of U.S. 90 in east Ocean Springs. He would throw beautification into the mix.

Moran said the widening is the biggest project for the city since the bridge and she foresees shepherding it in a direction with room for frontage roads and streetscapes, so it's not six lanes roaring up to houses and businesses.

McKay said he would push development in east Ocean Springs. Moran said she would like to re-establish a Planning Department when the city can afford it again.

She said it's essential to good growth and keeping projects on track.

McKay said the county doesn't use Ocean Springs as a piggy bank, that it's the third-largest contributor to the county's coffers behind all of rural Jackson County and Pascagoula.

Moran said in the last eight years, the city has collected an increase of only $90,000 in property taxes. In that same time frame, the county collection from the city has increased by $570,000.

Alderman races

Ward 2 alderman candidate Julia Weaver focused on keeping communication open with residents, fair treatment in zoning issues, her record of fiscal responsibility and track record when she was alderwoman at large.

She accused her opponent, Matt McDonnell, of dragging the city into expensive and unnecessary lawsuits, referring to one that involved Psycamore mental-health center wanting to move in near a neighborhood on Iberville Drive.

She said McDonnell wanted "to do special things for special people," when the zoning supported the business.

McDonnell said in a written statement the city needs to do more work with fewer resources, needs to recruit a variety of businesses downtown and should not raise taxes.

"We can't tax our way out of financial difficulties, we have to manage our way out," his statement said.

Ward 6 Alderman James Hagan defended the board as a whole on spending issues, said he voted to cut the budget and spending and hasn't raised taxes.

He said he thinks the board is "functioning well" and doesn't "want anyone to be scared. We're not going to fold or decrease services."

The challenger for Ward 6, Mike Impey, described his ward as one needing attention and drainage improvements.

"Little has changed in Ward 6" over the years, he told the crowd. "When you pull back the shiny veneer" of Ocean Springs "you see the same flooding issues and the same streets need to be repaired."

He said he has common sense and uses conservative principles.

"It's time for change," he said.