Revised Ordinance Will Bite the Hand That Feeds Wildlife

At its Tuesday, June 6, meeting, Gulfport City Council unanimously passed ordinance 2017-05, which will make it illegal to feed and/or possess wildlife on any city-owned property.

The measure is partly a response to complaints from residents near Wood Ibis Park, who say visitors are feeding bread to the ducks in and around the park despite being admonished not to. The residents cite scientific evidence that says white bread meant for human consumption has little to no nutritional value for ducks and might even be harmful to their health.

“It’s killing the birds,” Town Shores resident Beverley Comstock said during public comment time. “We now have scientific studies [to prove it]. Times have changed, but people don’t want to change. They fight it; they say, ‘Why? Where’s the sign saying not to feed [wildlife]? It doesn’t hurt the birds.’ They just can’t believe it. We need education here.”

Comstock went on to say that she’s seen rats scurrying around Wood Ibis Park – presumably a result of the proliferation of bread crumbs being strewn about by park visitors. “It’s a public nuisance,” she said. “There are at least 10 people a day coming to feed [the ducks] with whole loaves of bread.”

The ordinance constitutes an amendment to a section of the city code pertaining to streets, sidewalks, parks and parkways. City Manager Jim O’Reilly said the revision will bring Gulfport into alignment with Pinellas County regarding mistreatment of wildlife on publicly owned land, not just parks, meaning that feeding wildlife on sidewalks and other areas outside park boundaries will also be prohibited.

“Basically what we’ve done is adopt the county’s language,” he said. “Hopefully this will deal with some of the issues we’ve realized, specifically at Tomlinson Park and Wood Ibis Park.”

The Gulfport Police Department told the Gabber that a first offense would be considered a Class 5 code violation and would come with a $93 fine.

Budget Discussion 

“The biggest single [budget impact] we will talk about this year is utility rates,” O’Reilly said during the portion of the meeting set aside for discussion about priorities for the upcoming 2017-2018 budget.

City of Gulfport Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin presented slides showing how St. Petersburg’s proposed utility rate increases and surcharges will affect Gulfport’s bottom line and possibly result in residents seeing an uptick in what they pay for water and sewer services.

“We haven’t changed our rate structure for city services since 2011-12,” O’Reilly said.

But it sounds like that’s likely to change now that Gulfport’s water and sewer contract with St. Pete is up for renewal.

Hannafin’s presentation revealed that St. Petersburg intends to raise its wholesale sewer and wastewater treatment rates by 15 percent for 2018 and 25 percent for 2019. Meanwhile, the rate that St. Pete charges Gulfport for water is set to rise by 6 percent in 2018 and 25 percent in 2019. Also, St. Pete plans to impose a surcharge, made possible by a state-level statute, of 25 percent on top of both rate increases.

That means the city of Gulfport is looking at a $316,000 increase in water and sewer service expenditures in 2018, and a $720,000 rise in 2019 – costs that could very well be passed along to residents via utility rate hikes.

“We’re looking at ways to ‘massage’ our rate structure to help make up that $720,000 deficit,” O’Reilly said. “We’re unique in that we’re the last of St. Pete’s [wholesale city utility] contracts to be renewed. We’re the last one that’s not [paying] the 25 percent surcharge, except for the city of St. Pete Beach, which has a unique contract.

“This was a 30-year contract so we knew it was coming.”

Mayor Sam Henderson added, “Since we are St. Petersburg’s customer, and because of the way our contract is written, we have to charge what they charge,” he said. “So when they increase their rate, we are obligated to do that, as well.”

“And we have no other place to go,” Councilmember Michael Fridovich said.

“All of the effort we made to [raise rates] incrementally and not hit people with big increases is out the window, based on this,” Henderson lamented.

However, Hannafin reminded council that the proposed rate increases received from St. Pete are “very preliminary.” Based on those figures, her presentation showed that residents at the 2,000 gallon per month usage tier could see their rates rise by $6.15 per month, while those at the 4,000 gallon per month usage tier might have to pay $9.89 more per month.

Housekeeping

Near the end of the meeting, Henderson announced that the grand opening of the Tomlinson Park renovations – originally scheduled for Tuesday, June 6, but canceled because of inclement weather – will not be rescheduled.

There will be no city council meeting on Tuesday, July 4, because of the Independence Day holiday. The council will meet as scheduled on June 20, but the next meeting won’t occur until July 18.

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