Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bay Waveland Merger Shelved

Bay St. Louis-Waveland merger study shelved
Financial outlooks still grim

HANCOCK COUNTY - Researchers have stopped work on a study of the potential benefits of merging Bay St. Louis and Waveland into one city, according to the government think tank overseeing the survey.

The two cities began discussing a merger sometime last year, after Katrina annihilated most of their taxable incomes and infrastructure.

Although the merger review has been shelved, a report released last week shows just how dismal the financial outlooks really were, and still are, for Bay St. Louis and Waveland.

"We have suspended the (merger) study and it was what we thought would be best for the two cities at this point," said Marty Wiseman, who runs the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, which launched the study in March.
Katrina washed or blew away nearly 65 percent of homes countywide and with them went the governments' property-tax revenues. The casino and other giant retailers that had generated so much of the sales tax used to form the cities' operating budgets are slowly returning.

When revenue streams turned into trickles last year, Coast leaders were left to find money to rebuild infrastructure- sewerage, roads and public buildings - and create competitive salaries for the staff needed to maintain city services, all while funding their daily operations.

"To the outside observer having two municipalities wiped off the map presents an opportunity that the cities may not have otherwise, but to the citizens in those cities, (talk of a merger) would present a very chaotic situation that they just don't need right now," Wiseman said.

Why stop?

Several elements contributed to the study's suspension: Researchers believed data collection was getting in the way of storm recovery and trying to engage locals consumed with repairing their own lives into a government-merger discussion would be difficult.

The two cities recently settled an annexation dispute, adding hundreds of new properties that won't appear on tax rolls until next year, which Wiseman said "drastically changes the property-tax dynamic."

Also, Waveland was in the midst of a sizzling election to decide who would lead the city for the next four years, but Wiseman is quick to say the decision to stop the research was made only by the Stennis Institute.

"I want to make it clear that we were not asked by Mayor Tommy Longo nor Mayor Eddie Favre to stop the study," he said. "We made that decision ourselves."
But had a completed study been published around election time suggesting a merger was the only means of ensuring survival, it would have instantly created the single largest campaign issue.

Waveland candidates mostly debated issues of future development, building codes, money spending and transparency at City Hall, but top government experts
advocating an all-out merger with the Bay would have spawned where-do-you-stand questions no candidate could have avoided.

"We certainly didn't want to influence anyone's campaign whatsoever," Wiseman said.

At one point last year, Bay St. Louis and Hancock County leaders sounded as if their governments were lashed to the railroad tracks, counting down the days, hours and minutes to unavoidable insolvency. Local leaders have since received some federal and state backing to barely stay afloat.

But though the Bay, Hancock and other Coast governments were spreading a dark message of despair and pleading for help - mainly financial - from anyone who would listen, political leaders in Waveland continued to portray an almost-thriving city that was leading the storm-recovery race with its deep pockets.

Longo was criticized by some of his opponents for being out of touch with the fiscal realities of post-Katrina government.

To his credit, the city did have a $3 million cash reserve to live on after the storm, but Longo bashers have said with an annual budget more than double the reserve, that money ran out long ago.

Despite Longo winning last week's mayoral election, a study favoring a merger for the betterment of the two cities could still shove the mayor into a corner.

According to state law, the mayor of the largest municipality, based on population, would become the mayor of the newly formed city, which means Longo would likely have to walk away from a seven-year career at Waveland's City Hall.
'Struggling to survive'

According to a 70-page report published last week by the Stennis Institute, Waveland and Bay St. Louis are still "struggling to survive."

The report is part of a three-year study by the Stennis Institute and New York's Rockefeller Institute to determine Katrina's effect on Coast governments and their budgets.

The initial report from interviews with local leaders shows sales taxes in Bay St. Louis dropping from about $1.5 million to about $400,000, property taxes being cut in half and the city's annual budget sliced by nearly 80 percent of its pre-storm level.
Most of Waveland's $6.5 million budget was supported through sales taxes, which the report says are staggering back to their pre-storm level.

From July 2005 to the same time in 2006, Bay St. Louis lost $349,279 of its state sales-tax transfers, and Waveland saw a 30 percent drop, losing $678,281.
Gulfport, by contrast a much larger municipality, saw a 39 percent drop in diverted sales tax that accounted for more than a $7 million loss.

A lot of the financial bleeding on the Coast has been slowed by state and federal grants, private donations and loans.

The Bay has borrowed nearly $8 million since the storm and has applied for an additional $10 million to cover operating and recovery costs. City leaders are hopeful most of the loans will be "forgiven" or turned into grants.

Wiseman, who is expected to soon discuss potential cityhood with community leaders in Diamondhead, said he expects to restart the Bay-Waveland merger study within the next 12 months or "when the time is right."

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

His Hands and Feet Org

From Janet
Volunteers Boost His Hands and Feet Effort In Waveland, MS
December 1, 2006 For some living in our area, the holidays may never be the same after Hurricane Katrina hit a little over a year ago. Since then, News Channel 9 has followed the Katrina relief of two Collegedale, Tennessee based families who now live in Waveland, Mississippi.
The construction centered ministry His Hands and Feet says our stories attracted people from here to drive south and help. This morning, ministry co-founder Todd Johnson drove back into town and gave an update on Collegedale Christian radio station WSMC. His Hands and Feet has expanded to 17 people. During Thanksgiving, a wave of college students pitched in to get the volunteer camp up and running. From there, volunteers help storm ravaged homeowners rebuild their houses. His Hands and Feet members work for free but accept what they call God directed donations. Johnson explains what drives them. "
Jesus said 'When I come back, will Ieven find faith?' It's like, whoa, he wasn't talking to the world, he was talking to his own people."
The families first thought they would be in Waveland four to six weeks. They've been there for almost 15 months.

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Furniture Enroute

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 7:47 PM CST KEARNEY, Neb. -
A member of a Kearney church is trying to help residents of a Mississippi town who "are in desperate need of everything."
Theresa Hemenway, who attends the First Baptist Church in Kearney, has organized a furniture drive for the people of Waveland, Miss. They are still recovering from nature's assault by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
"I see the need. It's just total destruction down there," said Hemenway, who traveled to Waveland with five other members of her congregation earlier this month. They helped with reconstruction and a Thanksgiving dinner and returned to Kearney on Saturday.
New and used furniture is being sought, she said, including beds, couches, tables and chairs, mattresses, lamps and lamp stands. The residents also could use towels, rugs and bedding but are not ready for appliances such as refrigerators and stoves.
Donations were being taken at Kearney Moving Services, and Atlas Van Lines will take the items to Waveland at the end of next month.
The city of 6,674 sits on the Gulf coast about 35 miles east of New Orleans.
Katrina all but wiped Waveland off the map, and state officials said the city took a harder hit from the wind and water than any other town along the coast.
"It will never be back to normal there," Hemenway said. "It will be different, but they will come back."
Don't forget them down there," she said. "They are in desperate need of everything."
Information from: Kearney Hub, http://www.kearneyhub.com/

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Family Injured in Trailer Fire

Baby injured in FEMA trailer fire
HANCOCK COUNTY - A 13-month-old baby remains hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns, and his parents were also injured after fire erupted inside a FEMA trailer Thursday night, the Hancock County Sheriffs Department said.
The 10:30 p.m. fire at Oakwell trailer park burned 30 percent of Landon Rayburn's body. The baby had to be airlifted to a hospital in Baton Rouge. Hancock County chief investigator Kenny Hurt said he was told by the Department of Human Services that the child was in stable condition.
Mother Dana William, 21, was being treated for burns to her abdomen and both legs at a hospital also in Baton Rouge, Hurt said. The status of the father, Beau Rayburn, 26, is not known; he had been discharged from Memorial Hospital in Gulfport.
The home is off Highway 90, just west of Waveland.
Authorities hope an ongoing investigation between the sheriff's department and the state and local fire marshals will determine how the fire started.
"It was an accident. I don't think there was anybody intended to do anything to these people," Hurt said. "But it shouldn't have happened."

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Waveland Eatery Robbed

Armed robber holds up Waveland restaurant
WAVELAND - Police here say a man waited around until closing time Sunday night at S&B's Restaurant, then leaped over the bar wielding a semi-automatic handgun and demanded "all the money."
The owner of the neighborhood restaurant on Sears Avenue told police the man threatened to kill him and tried to wrestle him into the bathroom. The robber held the gun to the restaurant owner's head, and later hit him with it.
In a written release Monday, investigators said they are looking for a black man, 20 to 25 years old, with short, cropped hair and puffy cheeks.
Police said the robber was wearing a blue and white jacket with a red shirt. He fled in a silver or gray car - possibly a Ford Crown Victoria - with tinted windows and chrome wheels.

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