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Gulfport Leaders Mismanaging City and Misleading the Public
A GCN Opinion

Are Gulfport elected officials misleading the public and mismanaging the city’s finances? The evidence for that is growing. Mayor Ken Combs' new budget calls for a 20-percent increase in water bills as part of the answer to the city’s continuing financial mess due largely from how the city has handled water services. City Comptroller Mike Necaise reportedly blames a slow-down in the economy for a “stagnant” growth in sales tax collections. He says sales tax collections have risen only about $350,000 since 2001, and that is why the 20-percent average water bill increase is necessary. But this not true, according to official sales tax records issued by the State Tax Commission.

Sales taxes in Gulfport have actually risen from $16,264,220.96 in 2001, to $16,676,966.97  for 2003, a $412,746.01 increase, not the $350,000 as said by Necaise. Sales tax collections for Gulfport actually show a city with good growth.

Are Necaise and the Mayor just misstating the figures, or are they trying to mislead the public. The latter is more likely. There is no slowdown in Gulfport’s economy, just officials trying to mislead the public for their mistakes. In fact, in a recent article in the Journal of South Mississippi Business, Combs said Gulfport's business climate was growing.

Here’s a breakdown of sales tax collections for Gulfport since 1997, the figures are yearly totals running from July 1 to June 30 each year.

2003 - $16,676,966.97

2002 - $16,323,693.30

2001 - $16,264,220.96

2000 - $16,022,831.98

1999 - $15,296,602.87

1998 - $12,612,175.12

1997 - $12,409,339.16

While there was a spike in sales tax collections between 1998 and 1999, sales tax collections have increased significantly every year. Certainly not the “stagnant” picture outlined by city officials. And note the growth is evident despite the slowdown in the national economy.

Gulfport’s problem is that city leaders are just making bad decisions with their money and spending more than they should. Then they blame everyone and everything else for the reason they have to raise water bills.

Have you ever been to a Gulfport City council meeting? These often raucous meetings filled with raised voices and confusion are a disgrace. Recent news reports of Mayor Ken Combs' outbursts are only part of the picture, The City Council members  frequently have their moments as well. Rarely does the public hear about all the squabbling that goes on. The major news media rarely reports these outrageously run meetings, but it is a regular occurrence. Gulfport’s fine citizens deserve better.

Gulfport is facing a serious financial challenge due to its city’s inept leaders. But you can bet that if things do not change, Gulfport residents are going to pay for it. And that’s too bad.