The early bird catches the worm, or at least one of nine seats inside city hall for Tuesday’s City Council meeting. For the first time since COVID-19 swept the nation, Gulfport City Council met in person July 21 at city hall.
The scene was much different than it was the last time council met in person on March 3. Mayor Sam Henderson, Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich and Councilmembers Paul Ray and April Thanos sat on the dais, while Councilmember Christine Brown, City Clerk Lesley Demuth, City Manager Jim O’Reilly and City Attorney representative Ben Jacobs sat below facing the dais.
Representatives from Gulfport Fire Rescue stood at the door taking temperatures and handing out masks. Inside, nine chairs were spaced out for the public.
Council met in person because the Community Redevelopment Agency meeting after the regular council meeting required it. If authorized by the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Gulfport City Council will continue to meet virtually throughout August.
Consent / Resolutions Passed
Council voted unanimously to authorize the city manager to enter into a three-year agreement for internet service with Spectrum/Charter.
The city’s internet usage has substantially increased since 2017, so staff looked into renegotiating agreements with providers. Spectrum/Charter offers more bandwidth at a lower price than Brighthouse.
Council also voted unanimously to support H.R. 6800 Heroes Act of 2019-2020. The bill responds to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals and businesses.
Council voted on six new ordinances. The second reading for these will be on August 19.
Ordinances 2020-03, 2020-04 and 2020-05 are consistent with the current financial plan. The increase in cost for the services listed is to fund the area’s major sewer improvements.
Ordinance No. 2020-03 will increase the current deposit for utilities from $135 to $200. If it passes, the increase will begin for new accounts starting October 1, 2020.
Ordinance No. 2020-04 will increase the cost of water services by eight percent for Gulfport residents to offset the 25-percent increase from the City of St. Petersburg for the wholesale potable water and treatment of the Gulfport’s wastewater/sewer.
Gulfport resident Susan Harle sent an email to Councilmember Thanos requesting it be read during public comment on this ordinance. City Clerk Lesley Demuth read the email.
Harle explained that she has had to move out of Gulfport due to a lack of affordable housing for seniors and asked council to consider a senior discount on utilities to help offset the cost.
Gulfport has different tiers for utility rates, based on usage. The lowest tier costs residents less than the City of Gulfport pays the City of St. Petersburg for those gallons used, explained City Finance Director Cherly Hannafin.
Ordinance No. 2020-05 will allow for a one-dollar per month rate increase for stormwater utility fees.
Recycling and Sanitation
Ordinance No. 2020-06 will allow a three-percent raise, for a total 79-cent increase, for both recycling and sanitation. The ordinance is a compromise from the six-percent increase suggested by Pinellas County.
Gulfport Yacht Club Lease
City Council renewed the Gulfport Yacht Club’s lease of city property.
The newest lease is for three years, shorter than previous leases. The shorter lease allows the city to potentially use that parcel of land for any future large-scale marina expansion or other endeavors.
The GYC lease will be for $20,000 yearly for three years.
Food Truck Ordinance
Ordinance No. 2020-08 reviews Florida’s HB 1193 Deregulation of Professions and Occupations, which was adopted on July 1.
Per the bill, the city can’t prohibit food trucks and food carts, but can designate specific locations and hours of operation. Originally mobile food vendors were prohibited within Gulfport to eliminate interference with brick and mortar establishments.
In light of the newly adopted bill, council agreed that mobile food vendors who are selling to the general public will not be allowed to operate on public property – only on properly zoned (commercial) private property with the permission of the property owner.
This does not apply to special events, however mobile food vendors will go through a special event approval process.
For the past nine years millage rates have been 4.039 mills. Gulfport residents can expect them to stay the same for fiscal year 2020/2021.
Council agreed to adopt a tentative or proposed millage rate of 4.039 mills for fiscal year 2020/2021 and set public hearing dates on the budget for September 3 at 6 p.m. and September 15 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Overheard at Gulfport City Council
“Congressman John Lewis, he was just a great human being. Some people set out to be great and don’t succeed, others set out to be good and succeed to be great – I would have to say that was John Lewis.” – Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich, speaking about his interaction with the late Congressman John Lewis when they worked together in Atlanta.
“Because it’s been a while, a special event is when people get together and have fun.” – Mayor Sam Henderson joking during the discussion about events permits for mobile food vendors.
“I think I have some pictures on Facebook.” – Councilmember Paul Ray quipped back.
“I see on Facebook so many people just getting so mean, it’s getting raw. I would love to see more people spend more time to think about whoever they’re talking to, they’re in the same boat. They really ought to be decent and caring about each other.” – Councilmember Paul Ray during council comments.
“Don’t touch your face! This virus gets in through your membranes. You have five of them. Two of them are below the belt, the other three are right here [motions to her face].” – Councilmember Christine Brown during council comments.
“So we can get on past this and the next time we wear a mask it’s for Halloween.” – Mayor Sam Henderson during council comments.