Back From the Abyss: Gulfport’s Finances

For the first time Gulfport can see the light at the end of the budgetary tunnel. Thanks in part to rising property values and in part to a human resources manager who negotiated with the city’s health insurance carrier, Gulfport’s budget no longer depends on how many special trash pickups it performs or how many boats dock at the marina. The coming year’s budget includes an almost $1.5 million reprieve for the marina and utilities department.

It took six minutes, including the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, for the three Gulfport council members in attendance to approve the city’s budget for the coming year.

Although publicly noticed, no one stood to speak about the $23.2 million budget. The council itself had two members missing – Ward One Councilman Dan Liedtke and Ward Three Councilmember Yolanda Roman both had business meetings and could not attend the first of two meetings where council could vote on the city’s budget.

Almost $11 million of that money ($10.8 million) will come from property owners, other agencies and other taxing authorities. The city’s 4.039 millage rate will remain the same as it has in the past two years, but because of a 6.42% increase in property values, Gulfport will collect more property taxes than it did in the past fiscal year. Fiscal years start October 1 and end on September 30.

The general fund budget decreased from $11.5 million to $10.9 million, the bulk of which City Manager Jim O’Reilly credits to Mercedes Perez, the city’s human resources and risk management director. Perez, he said, negotiated a two-percent cost increase in the city’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida health insurance premiums. Initially, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida proposed a 10% increase.

That $600,000 savings will help the city reduce its dependence on its enterprise funds. An enterprise fund is a government-owned business, such as the Gulfport Municipal Marina or the city’s utilities departments. Enterprise funds make money based on customers and, in Gulfport, make more money than they spend. Gulfport has kept property taxes low by taking part of the money collected by these funds. Since enterprise funds cannot take money back from the general fund, these departments could not fund repairs or upgrades, such as a marina renovation or an overhaul of the city’s sewer system.

“For the past six years, during the economic downturn, we had to depend on these funds to not reduce services our community has become accustomed to,”O’Reilly says. “This year we’re only taking $135,000: $55,000 from the marina and $65,000 from utilities.”

This represents a $1.4 million decrease from last year, when those funds contributed over $1.5 million to the general fund.

The next and final budget meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 16 as part of the city’s regularly scheduled council meeting. Anyone who wishes to make a comment may do so at this meeting.

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