Council Approves Same Millage Rate

Though property valuations in Gulfport have increased over last year, the council unanimously voted on Tuesday, July 17 to maintain the same proposed tax rate for the seventh year in a row.

According to city documents, the proposed millage rate of 4.039 for the 2018-2019 fiscal year means a total of $3,788,922 in ad valorem tax revenue will be generated. This represents a proposed budget increase of $460,816 from the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The revenue increase results from the taxable property valuations in Gulfport increasing 8.249 percent since the 2017-2018 fiscal year, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. So, with a millage rate of 4.039, an owner of a home valued at $150,000 with the traditional $50,000 homestead exemption will pay $404 in property taxes.

On November 6, Florida voters will decide on a state constitutional amendment that could increase the homestead exemption to $75,000.

“If the expanded homestead exemption was to go into effect, you would be looking at a reduction of approximately $176,000 in new revenues,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. This would mean the budget growth would change from 8.249 percent to about 2.3 percent.
“That’s about a 75 percent loss,” said Mayor Sam Henderson.

In August, city staff will present council members with a five-year forecast of options to mitigate possible changes in the budget, said O’Reilly.

Public hearing dates for the city’s 2018-2019 budget will be held on September 4 and September 18. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.

Mayor Sam Henderson, left, presented a proclamation for the city’s Summer Straw Challenge program to Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor Justin Shea. Shea was instrumental in developing and organizing the activity that runs from July 1 through September 30. According to the proclamation, local businesses have agreed to “abstain from giving out plastic straws unless requested by a customer.” For more information and a list of the 17 participating businesses that have joined the city’s Casino Ballroom facility, visit mygulfport.us/strawless-summer-challenge.

Storm Water Rates May Increase

On the first reading of the ordinance proposing a monthly storm water rate increase of $1 per household, councilmembers unanimously approved the measure.

“This is a direct result of the rate study that we received in June,” said O’Reilly. “It is the only water or sewer utility rate increase proposed this year.”

The monies generated from the fee increase would fund the city’s participation in a federal program called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which is part of the US Environmental Protection Agency. 

According to the NPDES website, the program was created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act and it performs various permitting, administrative and enforcement tasks.

When the ordinance is read for a second time at a future meeting, if councilmembers approve it, the rate increase will take effect.

Teen Council Establishes New Free Library for Kids

The Gulfport Teen Council has been meeting to discuss projects “and one of our newest members came up with the idea of doing a Lil’ Library for children,” said Recreation Supervisor Marivel Gutierrez. A few Little Free Libraries already exist in the city but they are primarily aimed at adult readers.

“That’s a great idea,” said Henderson. 

Using their budget, the Teen Council had one made, they decorated it and it is located in front of the Gulfport Recreation Center, 5730 Shore Boulevard, said Gutierrez. It is also registered as part of the Little Free Library system and will soon be listed on their online locator map. The age range the library will serve is from preschool to through high school.

The teens contacted 321 Books in St. Petersburg’s Tyrone Square Mall and the business agreed to donate 50 books that members of the group selected, she said. If the teens put a logo for 321 on the library box, the bookstore will donate an additional 20 books per month. During the teens’ monthly meeting, they will maintain the library.

“We do ask that if somebody does take a book, they replace it or bring it back,” said Gutierrez.

Trolley Market Square Project Gets Windfall from State

As part of the ongoing Trolley Market Square project, councilmembers previously approved budget monies to prepare a portion of the soil in the Tangerine Greenway Park adjacent to 49th Street South so it would be free of petroleum-based contamination that happened in the past from use by a municipal bus and trolley service, said O’Reilly.

Subsequently, monies became available from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Brownfields and Bureau of Waste Cleanup program that needed to be spent before their fiscal year ended in June, according to city documentation.

The state monies saved the city a total of $141,357, which will be re-applied to construction aspects and related amenities of the project, O’Reilly said.

“It’s good to have a good relationship with the DEP,” said Henderson.

Trolley Market Square is part of the Tangerine Greenway Infrastructure Improvements Project located adjacent to 49th Street South between 18th and 19th avenues south. Tangerine Avenue South immediately borders the park’s north and south boundaries.

When finished, a focal point of the park will be the city’s popular trolley permanently mounted to a stylized track area that will most likely be made of pavers, said O’Reilly. The park will also accommodate festivals and concerts.

Lincoln Cemetery Gets City Cleanup Support

For the next Martin Luther King Day of Service on Saturday, January 19, 2019, Henderson proposed that instead of volunteers working on several concurrent smaller projects dispersed all over the city that resources could be concentrated on one larger option to make a greater difference.

“I’d like to see us focus our efforts in Lincoln Cemetery,” he said. “It’s a huge space and a historic cemetery inside our city limits. Next to Trolley Market Square, it’s probably our city’s largest green space even though it is privately owned. I know they could use a lot of help because they’ve had a hard time maintaining that property.”

Councilmembers agreed it was a good idea.

The primarily African-American cemetery is located at 600 58th Street South and is owned by the non-profit Lincoln Cemetery Society.

“We can make such a difference for this organization that has been really working hard to do it alone,” said Vice Mayor Christine Brown. “When the whole community comes together, we can get them to a place where they can more easily keep it up instead of it being such a big arduous project.”

With everybody focusing on one place, “we’ll be able to help get it cleaned up,” said Councilmember Paul Ray. “It’s looking a lot better. There’s two or three women and one man that really do all the work. They have a big job on their hands.”

Councilmember Michael Fridovich said, “It’s a great idea. Lincoln Cemetery is definitely something that needs to be promoted more.”

Society president and Gulfport resident Vanessa Gray was busy using a trimming lawn mower at the nine-acre cemetery on the evening of Tuesday, July 17 when she heard the news after the council meeting.

“Wow!” she said. “I’m very thankful, grateful and appreciative to all the city councilmembers more than they will ever know that they recognize the historical significance of Lincoln Cemetery and how we as volunteers are coming together as a community to restore history. 

“If we could have a day like that, we could have teams focus on things like lite brush and flower trimming, headstone washing especially for graves of veterans, weed eating around headstones and burial vaults, and detailed documentation of burial sites that need specific maintenance or restoration.

“Great things are happening for the greater good. There’s always something to do at the cemetery – a weed to be pulled or a headstone to be brushed off. There is a range of work that allows anyone of any physical ability to pitch in and help. 

“I’m so happy for the people buried here that I just want to hug a headstone right now.”

And, she did.

“A lot of headstones and burial vaults in this section are very close together and I don’t allow riding lawn mowers to go over them even if they are level with the ground because there is a chance of just a little scrape,” said Vanessa Gray, president of the non-profit Lincoln Cemetery Society that owns Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport. “Within this area, it’s best to push mow because we don’t want to damage grave sites in any way.”

 

 

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