Council Approves New Budget

For the sixth consecutive year, Gulfport city council members approved an annual operating budget without increasing the property tax rate on Tuesday, September 19.

The vote was unanimous.

The millage rate of 4.039 means the city will generate approximately $3,328,106 in ad valorem tax revenue, according to city documents.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. So, an owner of a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption will have paid $404 in property taxes during the previous 2016-2017 fiscal year, said Cheryl Hannafin, the city’s finance director.

In Gulfport, total property valuations for the new 2017-2018 fiscal year have increased by 7.725 percent over the last, according to city documents. This means that a tax bill for an individual who owns a home valued like the one in the example will increase by about $31 to a total of $435 even though the approved millage rate remains unchanged.

The increase in property valuations while maintaining the same millage rate means the city will collect approximately $235,023 more in property taxes during the 2017-2018 fiscal year than the last.

The new budget year will begin October 1, 2017 and end September 30, 2018.

“We’ve been talking about this [budget] since March” and the staff has been working on it “since before then,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. The staff’s effort to keep the five council members happy along with some of the other 12,500 residents is “much appreciated,” Henderson added.

To view a copy of the budget for the new fiscal year, visit mygulfport.us/city-gulfport-proposed-operating-2018-budget.

Good Neighbors

Referring to Hurricane Irma that swept over the area from Sunday, September 10 to Monday, September 11, Henderson said, “We did have an interesting week. The people in this town that did such a great job of just being good neighbors and good human beings quietly and humbly just helped people because it was the right thing to do.

“It really was great to see that spirit alive in this community.”

Henderson also thanked the city staff and volunteers who worked the emergency call center and shuttled people back and forth to evacuation centers, including Councilmember Christine Brown. He also pointed out that Councilmember Yolanda Roman reposted official city and county information across social media to help keep people informed and Councilmember Michael Fridovich was “checking in every time I wasn’t here. Everybody in this town who pulled together for this [is] much appreciated.”

“One thing that came out of the conversations” after the storm is there are some people who are not on social media or the internet who can fall through the cracks regarding weather notifications and evacuation information, said Margaret Tober, president of local non-profit organization Gulfport Neighbors. “I’m extremely proud of this city. One thing Gulfport Neighbors has wanted to do for a long time is create ward captains and have folks that go door-to-door. While the iron is hot, we’re going to work on that so we can find out what people need.”

Commendation for Gulfport

Michael Batista, a constituent advocate speaking on behalf of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, read a letter from the congressman written to Gulfport that said, in part, “I would like to commend the City of Gulfport for its timely and dedicated response to prepare and protect the residents before, during and after Hurricane Irma. From the rapid facilitation of protective measures, distribution of sandbags and supporting evacuation to commitment of municipal and residential restoration, Gulfport ensured both the safety of its nearly 13,000 residents and the preservation of its distinctive character.”

In Other Business

The city’s representative to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Commissioner Joseph Barkely, has contacted the council through the city clerk seeking reappointment to his three-year position. He represents Gulfport on the PSTA board of directors along with the cities of South Pasadena, Seminole, Kenneth City, Belleair Bluffs and Belleair.

If renewed, his term would be from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2020.

Henderson directed the city clerk to contact the other cities before the next council meeting on October 3 to see if other people may be interested in serving.

“I’d like to make sure that everybody seeking that appointment has a fair shot,” said Henderson.

“As part of that discussion, can we talk about opting out of the PSTA and contracting our own public transportation service?” said Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke. “Right now, we’re paying like $600,000 per year for PSTA and potentially for $400,000 to $500,000 we could run our own trolley service in Gulfport and link it to PSTA and have an extra $100,000 to maybe fill some of the gaps we see coming down the road. Let’s look at a proposal to see what the pros and cons are.”

After a short discussion with the City Manager Jim O’Reilly, council members agreed to review a proposal.

“Let’s look at the numbers,” said Fridovich.

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