The Bay St. Louis City Council this week approved a resolution declaring the city's intent to either seek General Obligation bonds up to $8 million or procure up to an $8 million loan from the Mississippi Development Bank.
"This is just the first step in the process," Mayor Mike Favre told councilmen Tuesday.
He said the resolution did not mean the city was actually procuring the money or obligating the city to anything, it was just an announcement that city leaders want to begin the process.
"We're looking at trying to see what we can afford," Favre said. "We'd like to move forward on this, if we could."
The resolution states the funds may be used for a variety of purposes, including constructing municipal buildings and facilities such as auditoriums or community centers; buying buildings or land; repairing existing city properties; upgrading and repairing existing streets, drainage and sewerage systems, sidewalks or parking facilities; constructing or repairing or improving bridges and culverts; constructing, repairing or improving wharves, docks, harbors and appurtenant facilities; altering or changing the channels of streams and water courses; and for "related purposes."
"The description is very vague," city attorney Heather Smith told councilmen. "The reason for that is, you don't want to narrow yourself and then have to come back" and get reauthorized for funds in the middle of a project.
"Eight million dollars is the max amount,"Jason Thomas, a consultant with the Southern MississippI Planning & Development District, told councilmen. "You may not need that much."
In other words, Ward 6 Councilman Josh DeSalvo said, the idea is to "come in high from the get-go and try to use a little less."
"The engagement letter from Butler Snow (attorneys) says $9 million," Ward 1 Councilman Doug Seal pointed out.
"That shows you how much it's been narrowed down already," Smith said.
"If we don't get but $3 million, that's what everything will be based on," Favre said.
"Before we vote for this, I'd like to look at it for a couple of meetings, get some public input on it," Councilman-at-Large Gary Knoblock said. "I would like to have the public come in on it."
Knoblock said he wasn't necessarily against procuring the money, but he had a lot of questions, including "what kind of millage increase are we looking at if we get $8 million?"
"I don't think we're going to get $8 million," Favre said.
"This just states your intent to move forward," Thomas said. "The public will have an opportunity to comment."
"I really think the public needs to chime in on this," Ward 3 Councilman Jeffrey Reed said. "I'm not against the bond, necessarily, because I know we need some improvements in the city, but I talked to a couple of citizens this morning, and they wanted to talk about this before we agree to anything.
"They want to know what other plans, what specific plans, that we plan to do with the $8 million. All I can tell them is, we want to do drainage, we want to do roads. Again, I would love to have public comment, public input, before I cast my vote to approve the bond. I'd like the public to chime in, because they're the ones who are going to be paying the bills."
"Sometimes you have to borrow money, go in debt, to do things and get them done quickly," DeSalvo said.
"I think the public will have ample opportunity" to comment before the city actually borrows any money, Ward 4 Councilman Larry Smith said. "It's part of a process. The public will be able to talk with us and voice their opinion.
"I agree with Josh that the bond is needed, and a lot of things need to be done in Ward 6," Knoblock said, "but with this coming onto the agenda at such a late hour … Why does it have to be today? Why can't we just wait until the next meeting? This is the first time that I've seen this and I have a lot of questions."
DeSalvo said that council had been discussing the matter for months.
"We didn't just bring this up, there's been a lot of discussion about a bond over the last few months," he said. "It didn't just come up today.
"i would respectfully request that this be moved to the next meeting to vote," Knoblock said. "I think we're doing the citizens of Bay St. Louis an injustice by doing this."
"I think we should workshop this out," Reed said. "I think we should have a workshop and let's tell (the public) what we're going to do with this $8 million."
Thomas said any intent to procure bonds or loans would have to be advertised in the Sea Coast Echo, and there would be a public comment period.
He said delaying approval of the resolution of intent could delay actually getting the bond or loan until next year.
DeSalvo called for a vote in the matter, seconded by Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Zimmerman.
Knoblock and Reed voted against the resolution; DeSalvo, Zimmerman, Seal and Larry Smith voted to approve it.
Favre reiterated Friday that the actual final number probably won't be $8 million.
"We're going to have numerous workshops to narrow down what we need," Favre said. "Right now, it's a broad -- very, very broad -- bond, but it will be narrowed down. It's probably going to be less than $8 million."
Favre said public workshops will be scheduled before the city commits to anything in the matter.