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Poll Position: Bay & Diamondhead candidates speak out ahead of runoff races
By Dwayne Bremer and Cassandra Favre
May 12, 2017, 20:41

Runoff elections are scheduled in both Bay St. Louis and Diamondhead this Tuesday, May 16. Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
In Bay St. Louis, Incumbent Mayor Les Fillingame and Councilman-at-Large Mike Favre will battle for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
The winner will take on Republican candidate Jeff Harding in the general election on June 6.
In the city's councilman-at-large race, Mike Weems will meet T.J. Collier for the right to take on Republican Gary Knoblock and Independent Susan Veglia on June 6.
In Diamondhead, incumbent Mayor Tommy Schafer will take on Councilman-at-Large Ernie Knobloch for the Republican nomination.
In Ward Four, Kodie Koenenn will face incumbent Councilman Ron Rech in the Republican runoff.
There are no Democratic or third-party candidates in Diamondhead, thus the winners are virtually assured of winning their respective seats.
Last week, the Sea Coast Echo solicited questions from Diamondhead and Bay St. Louis residents about what issues they believe are the most pressing for their respective cities at this time. Candidates are listed alphabetically.
Bay St. Louis Mayoral Candidates

Mike Favre:

1. What do you feel is the biggest problem the city faces at this time, and what kind of solution do you offer?
Simply put, the largest concern for our city is the negative public perception that has diminished progress in our great city.  I do believe we have a divided city, and the two branches of government are not able to successfully work together.  I think it is imperative that we restore trust and integrity in our city government at all levels, and the only way to regain the public’s trust is by being accountable and transparent to all stakeholders.
2. What can be done to enhance the city's economic development?
We must make Bay Saint Louis attractive to residents, business owners, and industry.  Making Bay Saint Louis attractive requires work in all aspects of city government, returning to a mindset that as public servants we are here to provide a service to the public.
We must streamline the process for people to do business with us, and genuinely demonstrate we want to be their choice for all of their residential or commercial development. While it is great that our city has received national recognition as “the coolest little city”, we have taken significant blows to our city’s reputation with all of the negative headlines publicized locally.  We have to become a standout community along the Gulf Coast and throughout the state.

3. What does the city need to do to better bring Wards 5 and 6 into the fold?
We cannot continue to pay lip service to incorporating the citizens in Wards 5 & 6 into our city’s strategic plan.  We must include all areas and all residents in our plans and actions with the intent of actually following through.  Meaning, all city services and upgrades should be distributed evenly to all citizens based on actual need, regardless of the geographic area they live in.

Les Fillingame:

1. What do you feel is the biggest problem the city faces at this time and what kind of solution do you offer?
The biggest problem the city has right now is not really a problem, it’s growing pains.  We are facing challenges with parking, keeping roadways paved at same pace that neighborhoods are expanding and managing the impacts that growing business districts are having on the growing residential districts around them.  The solution is to have elected officials work together as we plan comprehensively and put forth every effort to secure funding from State and Federal sources to leverage costs borne by our taxpayers.

2. What can be done to enhance the city's economic development?
Working with community partners like the Port and Harbor Commission, Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Bureau are the best way to market our assets, which are many.  Bay St Louis presents itself in a way that creates tremendous first impressions for those looking to invest in our future.  Our creative economy invites the audiences that have driven our exploding entertainment and service industry.

3. What does the city need to do to better bring Wards 5 and 6 into the fold?
The city needs to continue efforts to bring quality of life in Wards 5 and 6 to the standard we enjoy in older parts of the city.  We have made great strides recently but have a lot yet to accomplish.  The entire city has been solidly in support of improving our fastest growing residential/waterfront district that shares the vibrancy we all enjoy.

Bay St. Louis Councilman-at-Large candidates

Thaddeus "T.J." Collier

1. What do you feel is the biggest problem the city faces at this time, and what kind of solution do you offer?
The city is growing, possibly too fast. The local people are being kind of left behind. We're dealing more with the tourists. We need paved streets, make sure we have good drainage. and we need to take care of the local people, We need to keep Bay St. Louis clean and keep the sidewalks and the streetlights and make Bay St. Louis "A Place Apart."

2. What can be done to enhance the city's economic development?
We can open the city up for more businesses, make different allotments to allow possible tax benefits and to help new businesses to survive.

3. What does the city need to do to better bring Wards 5 and 6 into the fold?
We need to pave all their streets that are needed to be paved. We need to make sure the drainage is working. We need to make sure all the city services are available, the police and fire departments.

Mike Weems:

1. What do you feel is the biggest problem the city faces at this time, and what kind of solution do you offer?
One of the biggest problems facing Bay St. Louis at this time is the mismanagement of funds.
In a report released by the Office of the State Auditor, Sam Atkinson, she states, “Over the last several years, Bay St. Louis has experienced increasing budget and operational problems.” Although management solution is really out of the hands of the Council, budget and money management is the responsibility of the Council. As your next Councilman at Large,
I will commit to diligently studying and consistently reviewing the dockets, the budget, and the bank accounts, and to hold the administration responsible when not in compliance.

2. What can be done to enhance the city’s economic development?
I will review the most productive development agencies and work closely with other council members and find ways to fund them. As your councilman-at-large, we would have access to great business talents in all wards. By developing relationships in each ward we could find people willing to go out and bring businesses in to our community. We are in dire need of more jobs, especially for our younger people, if our city is to grow and prosper.

3. What does the city need to do to better bring Wards 5 and 6 into the fold?
Wards 5 & 6 have seen some improvements, but need more attention. We need to find a way to develop and implement a comprehensive ditch cleaning/grass cutting plan to so the water can drain properly to the canals, especially during any kind of storm. There are many weekenders who own businesses outside of the city that could be enticed to the area. Once approached and made to feel more appreciated, there is tremendous amount of untapped energy that could be contributed. With weekenders (who pay the highest taxes) investing further into the development of areas like 603, they could be the engine that drives development and causes wards 5 and 6 to become one with the other wards. I will strive to make sure each person in every ward is served and represented well.

Diamondhead candidates were asked:
1) Do you think the city should take over the management and/or ownership of the POA amenities when the covenants expire in 2020?
2) Do you support lowering millage or continuing to build cash surplus?
3) What grant projects and /or Tidelands projects would you support in the future?
4) Do you support future consolidation of services to fall under the city umbrella?
5) What can be done to enhance economic development in the city?


Tommy Schafer:

1. City takeover of amenities in 2020.
If necessary, yes.  It should be done in parts on a case-by-case basis.  There are four different paths to move the amenities into the future past 2020. Several forms of privatization are available and should be considered before tax dollars take over.

2.Do you support lowering millage or continuing to build cash surplus?
"I asked the council to lower the tax rate-millage two budget years in a row, but it was refused. Property values have risen, the value of a mil has risen, sales tax diversion dollars to the city have increased and the city has had budget surpluses.  The tax millage should be and should have been reduced."

3. Grant projects: "I pushed for and was successful with the city’s first Tidelands grant applications.  This is 100 percent money that can be used to leverage other grant dollars at no cost to the city and with no local dollars.  These projects will provide recreational opportunities for families of all ages while helping to manage drainage and storm water.  I will continue to support these good projects and grant opportunities.

4. Consolidation of services: "I support consolidation of the city and the fire district and Water and Sewer district and understand how to do it. It’s too early to include the police.  I opposed the previous administration's jail or holding cells at city hall and they have not been built.  I was successful in 2015 at passing legislation to start the Water & Sewer transition. The fire department is an easier move.

5. Economic development: "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. The lighting of the interstate will increase economic development interests and continue to increase sales tax diversions to the city.  The exchange itself will be replaced by MDOT within the next two years- design is nearing completion.  Appropriate interstate, hotel, and south-side developments are currently being planned as is an assisted or transitional living facility."

Ernie Knobloch:

1. City takeover of amenities in 2020. "Some of the covenants start to expire in 2020, but not all. We need to produce a one-or two-page information sheet that explains the pros and cons plus the financial aspects of moving amenities under the City. Producing such a document would allow everyone to make an informed decision.

2. Do you support lowering millage or continuing to build cash surplus?
The state suggests that you have cash reserves equal to three months of financial expenses. The city has that plus a weather-related reserve since the city must be able to pay expenses before FEMA makes any settlements. We have an estimated $8 - $10 million worth of drainage issues alone. The term cash surplus is not accurate.

3. Grant projects: Any grant that helps with drainage in areas such as Devil’s Elbow, Turnberry Dr., sections of Diamondhead Drive East, Bambo, Kahana and similar areas.

4) Consolidation of services: I think we need a one-or two-page summary of the costs involved and the pros and cons of moving each entity. The easiest would be the DWSD, since they generate funds to be self-sufficient.  The fire district is a challenge because of the costs involved. At this time the contract with the sheriff’s office seems to be the best way to go.

5) Economic Development. We need to improve the infrastructure by connecting roads in the business area and developing a frontage road along I-10. We should start to consider annexing areas out the back of Diamondhead."

Ward Four

Ron Rech:

1. City takeover of amenities in 2020.
Amenities of Diamondhead are the draw for families to move here increasing the tax base.  Amenities are a factor in determining the real property assessment value of Diamondhead used to determine the millage rate. Moving the amenities to the city may increase the millage rate.  The city has to put a plan in place to be prepared if the covenants actually expire.

2. Lowering millage:
Lowering millage could be dangerous.  Once lowered, it can only be increased 10 percent per year. State statutes suggest that a city should have three months of operating cash set aside for the last three months of the year to cover the time period when no property taxes are collected.  In addition, a disaster fund should be set aside.  Other revenue collected over and beyond expenses should be used for capital projects such as major drainage issues."

3. Grant projects:
I am in favor of any grant projects that will help to make our streets safer, such as round-a-bouts in place of four-way stops and any Tidelands projects that will be good for the health and welfare of our community, especially those with no cost to the city."

4. Consolidation of services: Yes, especially any service that has no debt attached.  Again, there may be a millage increase needed to move under the city control.  Water and Sewer is a self-sustained service with a revenue stream covering their expenses.  The fire department is now benefitting from a county millage and locally-charged fees.  Moving to the city would require a millage increase.  The police operation is running smoothly now, but could be moved under the city in the future."

5. Economic development: "The city has very little available land for any sort of large company or business.  This leaves the possibility of offering the smaller business owners some sort of tax incentive to settle in Diamondhead.  Need to make it easier for businesses to do business."

Kodie Koenenn:

1. City takeover of amenities in 2020. Our amenities are very important to the culture and future of Diamondhead.  We need to plan and be prepared so we will know all the variables when it comes time to make a decision.

2. Lowering millage:
While it is important to have money set aside in an emergency fund for a rainy day, I believe we have an adequate amount of surplus. The millage should reflect the services that are being provided and a reduction, if feasible, should be studied.

3. Grant projects:
Each grant should be looked at on an individual basis. They can come with strings attached, so when researching potential grants, we need to make sure they are in the city’s best financial interest.

4. Consolidation of services: Eventually, I would like to consolidate services when it is financially feasible. As a city, we need to do this to grow. However, a comprehensive plan needs to be put in place to ensure that future consolidation is resolved in the most efficient and cost effective way.

5. Economic development: First and foremost, we need to unify and restore pride back into our city so that future residents and homebuyers would want to make an investment here. We need to continue to work with M.D.O.T. in discussing the new access road from I-10. It is also very important to work with our business community to find ways to make our commercial areas more business friendly.


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