The Cost of Being Gulfport

It’s that time of the year where the air has a definite crisp feel in it. I mean, not here – it’s still gloriously muggy here but as I understand it, it’s fall in many parts of the United States. However, the way I can tell the seasons will soon change has nothing to do the temperature and everything to do with how much attention we pay to the budget.

As I’ve said before, we need to pay higher taxes, at least to the city of Gulfport. I don’t care if we pay them in the form of property or sales, or if we build some of them into higher rates for users of services, but we need to pay more.

Look at things this way and maybe you’ll understand: We do a lot with almost nothing. The city manager submitted a proposed budget of $27.2 million for the coming year, which starts on October 1. This includes both property taxes and monies collected by our water, sewer, marina and sanitation funds, even though they don’t use property tax monies to operate. According to the US Census, we have a population of 12,066. Let’s do the math.

Evenly divided, that means each resident should pay, in theory, $2,254 for the privilege of calling themselves a Gulfportian. Fair enough, but what does it really cost?

El Cap and I live in a decent-sized home on a double lot, but even so, our property taxes are laughably low: This year, we’ll pay the city an estimated $400. We pay more in other ways: Water, sewer and trash easily averages $70 a month, adding $840 to the total. We also store our boat in the city’s dry storage lot, which costs us $960 per year. So the two of us pay the city $2,200 a year, or $1,100 per Gulfportian, which means we put in only half what the city theoretically gives us. We’re paying half of our fair share. We could afford more, but no one’s asking for it.

Why am I so eager to give away my money? I’m not, actually, but I do want to make the point that if the city didn’t exist, most of us couldn’t get what they give us for anywhere near the same price.

Let’s look at the costs of life without paying taxes or fees to Gulfport. We’ll start with the little things, like the library. If someone borrows one book every other week, without the city they’d have to buy those books instead. At $12 a book, that’s $312. And forget about the free technology classes; with no city, if I want to learn how to use my iPad, I register for a one-credit weekend class at St. Pete College. Cost? $110.

Hey, at least GeckoFest won’t change! Except when the annual GeckoBall rolls around, the Gulfport Merchants don’t get the in-city nonprofit rate for the Casino. They pay the full rate, which they pass on to us, at an extra $30 a couple.

As for trash, let’s assume a conservative $20 per month, or $240 per year. We’re still doing OK, financially, and I’m almost convinced we don’t need a city at all.

But forget the little things. Our biggest expenses are public safety – the police and fire departments. The city budgets $4.8 million, or $397 per person, for these departments together, so let’s assume that’s what we would pay a private company for safety. Unless, of course, something happens and I need to increase security. We could save money by reverting to a volunteer fire department, but unless all those volunteers are trained as firefighters, they can’t do much but aim hoses at my house as it burns to really well-renovated kindling. This, not surprisingly, makes my homeowner’s insurance increase.

Ah, but suppose I have a kid? See, Gulfport subsidizes its daycare, but without paying those pesky taxes, instead of $100 per month, I’ll pay $150 per week. That’s an extra $6,600 a year.

Without taxes and the things they represent, this theoretical lifestyle would cost me $9,489.

I haven’t discussed street cleaning, playgrounds, a gym membership to offset the city trails I run along, parks, or any number of things I don’t have space to itemize. I also didn’t factor in boat storage, because I’ll have to work a second job to pay for the cost of not having to pay taxes. I don’t have any time to use the boat, so I decide instead to sell it.

This is why I tell anyone who will listen we should pay more. We – myself included – make demands on our council and harass the city management about why we did this or didn’t do that. I don’t think most of us think and appreciate what we get for what we pay.

I don’t know about you, but I have bigger hopes for Gulfport, dreams that include more staff and services, more public facilities and a bigger and better recreation program. However, it’s pretty clear we can’t get any more blood from this stone. To move forward, we need more money. Start thinking about Gulfport in terms of dollars rather than demands, and you’ll see we get far more than that for which we bargained.

 

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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