Repairs, revenue top needs in Bay St. Louis

Mississippi Clarion-Ledger

Friday 23 December 2005, 5:35 pm

By Cathy Hayden

Although city services and most utilities have been restored to every place where a connection is viable, about 30 percent of Bay St. Louis homes and 80 percent of the businesses were wiped out.

Economic Director Buz Olsen had no estimate on lost tax revenue, but one of the biggest hits was Casino Magic, the city's only casino, which brought in $250,000 a month in taxes. The Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District is especially hurting because of the lost tax base.

The city has issued 1,800 building permits since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, so Olsen knows residents are trying to rebuild. His office is in one of four trailers the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved in about a month ago to house city services, including the mayor's office and public works. Along with the trailers, the corps provided chairs, desks, pencils and "everything to get you back to normal," Olsen said. "They didn't say they'd pay the electric bill."

Few damaged businesses have reopened. No fast-food restaurants and only a handful of gas stations are open.

Bay St. Louis had four grocery stories before Katrina. Now the only grocery shopping is in a Wal-Mart that partially has reopened. Otherwise, everyone is driving to Gulfport or Slidell and Mandeville, both across the state line in Louisiana. "Everybody in the city is almost on equal ground. Everywhere you go, you're standing in a line for gas, groceries and food," Olsen said.

He estimates of the 8,209 counted by the U.S. Census pre-Katrina, Bay St. Louis has lost about 30 percent of its residents, or about 2,700.

Although the five-campus Bay St. Louis-Waveland school district started back Nov. 7, only about half the 2,300 students are attending. The schools were the last Coast district to reopen. Bay High has the highest attendance, 59 percent, with Waveland Elementary at 38 percent. Most students are scattered among one of 68 portable classrooms that FEMA supplied.