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The Road Ahead -
An Interview With Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre
Speculation put to rest, city finances, the overall health of Bay St. Louis, and the fate of two cities – if not the entire county.

By Mark Proulx - Special to GCN  Filed 2/4/06

Mayor Eddie Favre, Bay St. Louis, paid me the honor of returning many unanswered phone requests for an interview. Knowing GCN has been instrumental in keeping the general public aware of the actual situation on the ground, Mayor Favre felt it was time to make time for me and fill me in on the general happenings in and around the Bay.

MP: There’s been a lot of speculation and reports lately of BSL and Waveland merging. How is that shaping up?

Favre: “Well, first off, we never had general consensus up until this past Wednesday [Feb 1] to go ahead and even officially commission the study to look at merging the two cities. We met with four supervisors from Waveland and a couple of alderman from BSL and it was the first time we had general agreement that we should go and look at this as a viable thing to look at. Since we started meeting now and then, there’s been a sense that maybe we should take a look at it, cause it makes sense to at least get the numbers. I think me and Tommy [Longo] are both in agreement that merging the two cities just to merge them makes no sense whatsoever. It has to have impact and save us real dollars so that we can both survive, otherwise it’s a bad idea…so we got the go ahead and commission the study with Marty Weisman from Mississippi State to do a comprehensive study. But we didn’t okay that until this past Wednesday night.”

MP: What are the sort of things you’re looking to save on? What services could you combine?

Favre: “We’ve already done a consolidation of the dispatching, so we figured that there was a lot of other things that we could combine, as well. Years ago, we looked at combining the school districts. Problem was, there was so much discussion of the minor details like school colors, mascot name and stuff like that we never got around to talking about how we would actually perform the merger. The little details that people thought were important and got involved in the minor things kept us from actually doing the merger…so we gotta be careful to make sure we look at the legalities of doing this first, make sure we can do it and how, then work out the minor things last. We feel that there is a lot of things that can be combined and save both cities a lot of money needed to help the people survive here.”

MP: “Who all is involved with the talks?”

Favre: “Like I said before, we have supervisors and alderman talking about this. I’ve talked to Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo about this a few times and we all think it’s worth looking at. One of the major things we need to do is partner up with the Hancock County, too, since it’s in the best interests of the county to see that both cities survive. I’ve had discussion with the county people who say there’s no way the county can take over any other services because either they have no money or that they are only taking care of the unincorporated sections of Hancock. The fact of the matter is, if both Waveland and Bay St. Louis don’t survive, Hancock County is gonna have a hell of a lot more people to take care of cause all of Hancock county will be unincorporated if we don’t make it. We gonna have to make some tough, hard decisions in the coming months and it means we have to partner up with everyone we can to make it through this. This has never happened before in Mississippi that I know of, so the entire nation is looking to see what we’re gonna do to get through this. If we can sit down with an independent report that looks at all the areas that could be consolidated, saves a lot of money and ensures that we get through this, who cares who pays for what?”

MP: “I imagine that if BSL, Waveland and Hancock County do pull this off, you will be setting the model for all future disasters to come in the United States?”

Favre: “I don’t think anybody cares if we’re making history here right now. We just trying to get a plan together that makes sense and helps us survive. We really are in survival mode. Anything we can do to get it done, we’re gonna take a look at, cause it just makes sense to do it. It also makes sense to see about consolidating county services, too, not just the two cities. Hancock County has a vested interest in seeing BSL and Waveland make it, or else Hancock County might not survive either.”

MP: “How are the businesses doing along Highway 90? Is anyone coming back?”

Favre: “Oh sure…we’re seeing businesses come back little by little. Not nearly enough though. What few food places we have here are getting killed by people. You can’t get into a restaurant, it’s standing room only in there. Even Neil’s place [Southern Delights] is getting swamped. They opened up the Lunchbox and Neil says his business dropped off by like ten percent, but he’s still can’t handle the traffic. It’s crazy. People are getting sick of staying at home and living in these trailers, and they want to get out once in a while. Well, remember how many people we are talking about. If everybody wants to go out at the same time, the few businesses we have left are swamped.”

MP: “Let’s talk about the city’s revenues for the year…how did you make out with the property taxes?”

Favre: “We estimate we’ll be getting about sixty percent of the property taxes this year. The taxes, we were told, were discounted so that only about 80% was collected up to the hurricane, but taxes are always collected in arrears so that means we will see the most amount of money coming in this year for last year. Next year is where we are going to feel it. We’re looking at maybe 10-15% next year, which means we don’t know how we are going to do it unless we do something now to prepare…which is why we’re officially commissioning the study on consolidation. Next year we’re gonna be in serious trouble unless we do something ahead of time. BSL had very little flood insurance. Nothing major that would take care of the expenses we have now, so we learned a big lesson there…but hearing all the insurance stories, I doubt paying insurance would have helped us anyway.”

MP: “What would help with the expenses?”

Favre: “What we really need is a comprehensive bail out package that takes into consideration operating expenses for the cities and the county. We’ve received millions of dollars in individual and damage assistance, but almost nobody is talking about the operating expenses these cities need to survive. We need the government to step in and help us with a bail out over a five, six, maybe seven year period until the houses are built, the businesses return, the casinos come back into full operation and property taxes can be collected again. Like I said, I never hear anyone even mention the operating expenses, but this is a critical issue and I’ve mentioned it to Governor Barbour, the state senate and several of the Washington congressmen who have come down to actually see the damage firsthand.”

MP: “How did you view the president’s visit?”

Favre: “I was really glad to see him finally come down and view the area. It really was a good thing because it did focus national attention on our situation and it got more members of Congress interested in getting down here to see exactly what was going on. Like I told them, ‘come down here.’ There’s no way you can honestly assess this situation except stand there and look around at all the damage that’s here. Pictures don't do it justice, even now. Nothing has changed and we are looking at damage of biblical proportions. With the lack of operating expenses coming in – and we know it’s gonna be a long time before people rebuild, if they do at all – this whole area is going to slowly die off unless we get help. We’re not asking for people to support us all our lives, just help us get on our feet so we can take over again.”

MP: What’s the plan with the FEMA trailers? How long are talking about keeping them?”

Favre: “We already thought abut that and we’re making sure people are always thinking about getting a more permanent situation figured out and a plan to get out of the trailers. We’re letting people have the first month ‘free’ basically, but every six months, everyone in a FEMA trailer has to submit for a permit that’s good for six months. After the first six months in order to get a permit, plans have to be submitted that show what you are going to do to get out of living in the trailer. Everybody’s situation is different, but we feel that as long as people are submitting their plans to get into a more permanent situation, we don’t think we’ll have the long-term trailer park mentality. We want people out of the trailers as soon as possible and are working with them to ensure it it uppermost on their minds that they have to be putting a plan together. We aren’t rushing anybody yet, but we intend on getting rid of all these trailers as soon as possible.”

MP: “How’s the bridge deal going with MDOT?”

Favre: “I had a conversation with them just today, as a matter of fact. They have already passed the contract over to a contractor. It’s gonna cost somewhere in the $270 million range over the next 15 months. The contractor expects to have at least two lanes open for traffic to the Pass by then and then it’s gonna take another 12-15 months longer to actually finish the job. From what I hear, it’s going to be a span at about 85 feet high in the middle instead of a drawbridge and about 37 tall otherwise. We also met with representatives of MDOT to tell them that we want to make sure that this is aesthetically pleasing, too…not just a big concrete monster just sticking up. We want to make sure it looks good coming off the beach, as well, so that we can be proud to look at it since it’s going to be a permanent structure coming in and out of the Bay.”

MP: “Anything else you want to say to Mississippi or Washington?”

Favre: “I just want everyone to know that it’s important that the national media and the congressmen come down here and actually see what’s going on. They really have to stand on the beach and look around to really comprehend how much damage there was to this area. And our people need to know that we are not forgotten.”

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