New Generators Approved, Water Rate Study Presented

To fortify its ability to better serve the public in the aftermath of a hurricane with power outages, Gulfport City Council on Tuesday, June 19 approved a resolution to seek matching grant funding for the purchase of five large generators.

The 75 percent matching grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is called the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). It is designed to help local communities “reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property” from natural disasters and their effects according to FEMA’s website and city of Gulfport documentation.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which was a category 1 storm, Gulfport’s emergency operations locations in City Hall and the 49th Street Neighborhood Center were without full power for six days, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. Overall, a total of 85 percent of the city was affected.

After Irma, “we found we can’t depend on anyone” to help us when the power is out, said O’Reilly. The city’s existing generator power is “small scale.” 

According to a city memo, “the loss of electric power resulted in the closure and suspension of many city functions until power was restored.”

A total of $12.5 million has been allocated to Pinellas County and discussions have determined that, based on the effects of Irma, the city’s request for generators to strengthen three critical facilities are “eligible for funding,” said O’Reilly.

The total cost would be $410,900 with FEMA funding $308,175 and the city being responsible for $102,725.

If purchased, three generators would fully power the City Hall emergency operations center (EOC), 2401 53rd Street S., one would power the alternative EOC at the Public Works Building, 1617 49th Street South, and the fifth would power sanitary sewer Lift Station 1, which is located at the southwest corner of 29th Avenue South and Miriam Street South, said O’Reilly.

“I’m happy to see this,” said Vice Mayor Christine Brown. “To be up and running to be able to help the citizens is important.”

Water Rate Study Presented

For about 20 minutes, Andrew Burnham, a vice president from the Stantec consulting firm, presented a detailed efficiency study that focused on Gulfport’s long-term planning options regarding budgeting for utility rates. The company’s Senior Analyst Deborah Kloeckner also attending the meeting.

According to the company’s website, Stantec consists of designers, engineers, scientists and project managers headquartered in Canada with regional offices located throughout the United States and Florida including Tampa.

As part of a special financial management group, “we focus on the water resources industry and help local governments manage their utility systems from a financial standpoint,” said Burnham. “We look at capital spending, funding strategies, reserve policies and rate structures.”

The company has extensive expertise in Pinellas County, said Burnham.

Gulfport did an initial water rate utility rate study in October 2015, said Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin. Since that time, internal analysis has been done and the results have been provided to the council periodically. Recently, the city “engaged with Stantec and has been working closely with them gathering data,” she said.

The presentation included details regarding regional rate comparisons and benchmarking to provide perspective regarding the various costs of maintaining the current level of service.

“The number one issue that keeps” national water industry experts “up at night is affordability,” said Burnham. Historically, “water and sewer rates are going up at about three times the rate of overall consumer inflation.”

Income assistance programs, voluntary consumer donations in the form of bill rounding and appliance rebate programs are some of the ways municipalities have helped to make water utilities more affordable, said Burnham.

“Thanks to Cheryl Hannafin and Jim O’Reilly, we have been phasing in costs” over time and using tiered rate plans based on use to avoid “staggering jumps,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. 

According to the study, Gulfport’s position in the region “may be about the best case scenario considering the environment we’re in in terms of the water market,” said Henderson. “It’s nice to be in this position right now because it certainly hasn’t been fun raising the water rates.”

As needed, the city welcomes questions about individual meter charges and works toward resolutions, if possible, said Hannafin.

If people have questions about their utility bill, they are welcome to call me or Hannafin,” said O’Reilly. O’Reilly’s office phone is 727-893-1009 and Hannafin can be reached at 727-893-1014.

Strawless Summer Challenge for Gulfport Businesses

A new city-sponsored effort that emphasizes the voluntary participation of local restaurants and businesses to abstain from distributing plastic straws to customers except by request will begin July 1 and run through September 30, said O’Reilly.

The three-month program is being called the “2018 City of Gulfport Strawless Summer Challenge,” said Justin Shea, the city’s cultural facilities events supervisor.

A pledge form will soon be available on the city’s website and there are several benefits beyond helping the environment, said Shea.

“Businesses that register and complete the challenge will receive a photo spotlight on the city’s website for one year and will be highlighted as a participant in social media efforts,” said Shea. 

In addition, another participation benefit was added on Tuesday, June 19, said Shea.

“The name of each registered business will be placed on the beach volleyball court’s north fence-line banner as a participant in the challenge,” said Shea. The banner will also include the logo for the challenge.

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