Council Looks at Cutting Some Events

Special events in Gulfport, like the Fourth of July celebration, may be changing based on council member suggestions made during Gulfport’s regular council meeting on August 16.

It’s the annual budget season and this week entertainment took center stage.

“We’re a city of giving, providing and bringing in a lot of visitors,” said Councilmember Yolanda Roman. “We’re accepting the $100,000 budget. As we think of five-year planning and beyond, we may need to look at cost sharing or other ways to perhaps contain some of these costs. We [also] need to look at the quality of life of how much staff it takes to put a lot of these programs through.”

Among the top five most costly events, the nation’s birthday celebration stands out at nearly 40 percent of the special events budget.

“I realize everybody likes the Fourth of July,” said Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich. “But, we’re spending $36,984.87. Before everybody starts complaining that we don’t have enough money for this or that, is there some way we can get a better deal on the fireworks for $22,250? I’d like to ask if the merchant’s [association] and the chamber of commerce would consider chipping in a little. If not this year, at least prepare for next year.”

In a lot of cities, the chamber or merchant’s association partner or they pay for the whole thing, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.

“When you tell people you’ve got 76 to 78 events, their eyes roll back,” Fridovich said. “I’d like to make a suggestion that each organization has X-amount of events. If they want to add an event, they have to take one away. We don’t need more events in the city.”

Groups that sponsor multiple events include the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, the Gulfport Merchant’s Association and Gulfport Neighbors.

“We’ve made this one of the ways we’ve subsidized the culture of Gulfport,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. “We’ve had events of different kinds: historical, environmental and nature clean ups, the things that are just purely to bring business into downtown.”

But, times are changing.

“I’m going to say [this] at [the] risk of making some people upset,” said Henderson. “With the level of business that we’re getting, it might be time to do one art walk a month.”

With regard to freeing up staff time, “that’s a person 12 nights a year,” said Henderson.

“I’d like to see some things combined,” he said. “It’s not realistic to think that people are going to come here every weekend. So, the weekend that they are here, let’s give them a selection of things to do. That will give staff some weekends off.”

Council is also looking at events with low turn out from the public.

“We need to talk about letting some things go if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Henderson.

Fridovich suggested having a roundtable discussion “if not for the upcoming year, for the following year.”

Worker’s Compensation Costs Nearly Double

“We estimated a 10-percent, across-the-board increase,” said O’Reilly. “We totally missed the boat on workman’s comp. So it’s going to be an 18.1 percent increase,” which is “about a $20,000 hit on your budget.”

Two changes in Florida law are the cause.

“The state supreme court came down with a couple of rulings [that means] worker’s compensation is going to cost a lot more,” said City Attorney Andrew Salzman.

First, potential time periods of benefits are going to continue longer than they were, he said. Temporary benefits used to be limited to two years. Now, that is no longer the law.

Second, there used to be a cap on attorney’s fees, he said. “They were paid a percentage of recovery based on what [was] obtained. They were pretty low.”

Now, the fee structure is returning to what it was 10 years ago, which is an hourly fee if the court approves it, he said.

Proclamation for International Homeless Animals Day

The council has recognized August 20 as a day to bring attention to the fact that “humans [have] domesticated dogs and cats, they depend on us, therefore, it is our obligation to provide responsible, humane care for them throughout their life.”

Members of the Friends of Strays, led by Community Relations Manager Claire Wray, brought this topic and need to the attention of the council.

On August 20 starting at 6 p.m. at Salty’s, 5413 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport, “we’re going to have a candlelight vigil and memorial,” said Wray. “We will go down to the beach at sunset and remember the animals we have lost as well as those that were not lucky enough to find their forever home.”

Morris the Cat Memorial Will Be Refurbished

Larry Busby of Gulfport contacted Roman and wanted to know if the animal statue next to the Gulfport Casino that has fallen into disrepair could be restored.

She and the city staff along with members of the Gulfport Merchant’s Association found Susan Harding, a local artist, who can do the needed sandblasting and painting for $250.

“Staff has said that Morris was a roving cat back in the day,” said Cultural Facilities Event Supervisor Justin Shea. They “would feed the cat. They ended up finding [it] outside and had a memorial made for it. It’s the Gulfport cat.”

A plaque on the memorial reads, “In memory of Morris the Casino Cat. His ashes remain here by his mansion by the sea. 1970-1985.”

“We can put that on the weird tour,” said Fridovich.

Gulfport Fire Lt. Pete Huffman Dies

“We lost one of our firefighters last week,” said Councilperson Christine Brown. “He was instrumental in a lot of things in our city and one thing in particular, he helped the CERT team get off the ground.”

CERT is Gulfport’s Community Emergency Response Team.

Huffman was a 35-year veteran firefighter who served in many stations in Pinellas County, most recently in Gulfport.

He was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer last year and had to leave his job just 10 months before he was set to retire.

Pinellas County Commissioners Choose Gulfport for Meeting

The August 16 meeting, held at the Catherine Hickman Theater from 5 to 6:30 p.m., just before the regular council meeting, was one of three scheduled as outreach work sessions that promote citizen engagement.

“They were here to talk about the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) that they’re continuing,” Henderson said. “That affects our waterfront redevelopment district [because TIF is] a significant source of funding.”

With 24 municipalities to choose from in the county, “It’s nice to have them here. It’s the first time since I’ve been in office that that kind of meeting has been held [in Gulfport] and I’m sure it was no accident because we’ve had great success with what we’ve done with that money.”

Overheard at the August 16 council meeting:

“I think it’s great that it’s there. Would the city consider putting in several up and down the main strip?” – Resident Tim Spencer on the electric vehicle charger by the Casino

“I’m not suggesting it for this budget year, but I’d like to look at solar powered charging stations in the future.” – Mayor Sam Henderson, in response

“And, maybe not down there but at the library.” – Councilmember Christine Brown

“How long are we going to give away free electric? At some point, are we going to put a meter up and start charging people or is it free forever?” – Councilmember Dan Liedtke

“I want to look into the cost of bollard [lights] for the walkway in Veterans Park. I don’t want to do any of the big lights up on poles. I don’t want to add any more to light pollution than necessary.” – Henderson

“And, that’s so you can better perform Pokemon?” – City Manager Jim O’Reilly joked in response

“Clearly, we don’t all agree. We wouldn’t need a council if we all agreed. And, I’ve butted heads with people in this room and people on this dais, um, in general. That’s my five minutes, so I guess I’ll complete that thought next time.” – Henderson as the time limit buzzer sounded on council comments

“I just wanted to make that publicly clear.” – Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich regarding the profitability of the volleyball courts. According to Councilmember Liedtke, the courts generated nearly $20,000 in revenue for the city. Jim O’Reilly confirmed that court rental and set up is $400.

“Are you having too much fun?” – Liedtke to Fridovich while discussing ways to limit  the number of city entertainment events

“I’d like to amend the events list and take off the [Gulfport Historical] museum’s 5K and the Halloween tour. We would like to concentrate our energy on other events right now, do a lot of stuff in-house and not reach out to the city at all.” – Brown

“There will still be gas and bait. The important things.” – O’Reilly regarding the closure of Gulfport Marina’s Ship Store August 17. The store’s closure is the second phase of the marina building construction project to create a retail area.

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