Roads, Markets and a Big Payout from BP

The Tuesday, July 7, city council meeting started off with a special occasion as council members and attendees witnessed the swearing-in ceremony of the new lieutenant for the Gulfport Fire Department.

Firefighter Scott Burford was presented with a red helmet after being sworn in as lieutenant with family and friends in attendance. Burford has been employed at the Gulfport Fire Department for eight years and has received the Medal of Honor. He will be in charge of the B shift.

Council also celebrated the fifth consecutive successful accreditation of the Gulfport Police Department. Accreditation occurs every three years and assess a department’s performances and duties. The Gulfport Police Department is one of seventeen agencies nationally that have been awarded the Excelsior status for achieving highest accolades for 15 straight years.

After the new executive director of the Pinellas Planning Committee, Whit Blanton, was introduced, council got down to business with a proposed resolution for paving 25th Avenue South and 18th Avenue South.

The proposal gave way for City Manager Jim O’Reilly’s authorization to enter into a contract with Asphalt Paving Systems, Inc. for the project.

“I know a lot of people will be happy to hear these will get paved,” Mayor Sam Henderson said.

“These are two of our worst roads down to the base,” Public Works Director Don Sopak said. “We are trying something different to Gulfport … We do it all in one shot. It’s a very inexpensive process. Plus, we get to reuse everything we have. It’s a win-win situation.”

Public works is also working on getting prices for more road improvements to come in October.

The hot-button issue at the table was the proposal by the 49th Street South Business Association to introduce a Saturday morning market at the Tangerine Greenway starting in August.

Public comment on the issue felt that this would diminish the already popular Tuesday market and may take business away from the it. Co-manager of the Tuesday market, Chris Spencer, voiced his concern that having two markets would confuse people.

“We have already discovered there is confusion and confusion of markets,” Spencer said. “We feel as the Tuesday market people that it undermines the integrity of our market and creates confusion to start another market.”

Spencer also aired his concern that another market would poach current Tuesday market vendors.

“Our goal is not to hurt anyone,” Jeri Reed, president of the 49th Street Business Association, said in rebuttal. “We are tasked with bringing 49th Street together. One side is Gulfport, one is St. Pete and we are constantly chipping that wall down.

“The only reason we looked at doing a market is because we got calls about it,” Reed continued. “No one is trying to be in competition with the Tuesday market.”

Council decided to table the discussion until a further meeting, and Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman and Councilwoman Christine Brown shared many of the concerns of those who did not like the idea, but Mayor Henderson was inclined to agree with the proposal.

“Does anyone come ask you when they want to do something downtown?” Henderson asked. “Anyone has the right to come and make an application to do a thing like this. No one has to ask anyone’s permission, other than us, to do it.”

“There are 12,500 people in Gulfport,” Councilmember Mike Fridovich said. “And not everyone is retired. My neighbors work Monday through Friday and they can’t make it to the downtown market on Tuesdays. Using the theory that we have one market and can’t have another is like saying we have one restaurant so we don’t want a second restaurant to come in.”

Council then agreed to propose a millage rate for ad valorem tax revenue for the fiscal year of 2015-16 at a rate not to exceed 4.039 mills and provided a consensus to the city manager on the proposed 2015-16 budget.

The night’s biggest news, however, came at the end of the meeting. Before adjourning, council unanimously passed a resolution to authorize City Manager O’Reilly to accept the agreed amount of damages paid to the city of Gulfport by BP in the City of Gulfport vs BP Exploration and Production Inc, et al “Deepwater Horizon” civil suit.

Just this week, Florida was awarded $27 million from the suit, and Gulfport is happy to accept $1,599,402 of that.

It will take 70 to 90 days for city attorneys to accept or decline the awards, so as of now the money is not been allocated in the current city budget. After all is said and done with lawyer fees, the city will net $1.2 million. A motion was passed for the city to agree to the dollar amount and will now send the amended referendum to their attorney for approval.

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