Gulfport City Council wasted little time getting through the business of budget approval, utility rate hikes and general housekeeping in their regular meeting on Tuesday, September 7.
Council also confirmed that the next meeting will be on Monday, September 20, a rare change made because of a conflict with a Pinellas County School Board meeting scheduled for the original date.
Millage Rate, Budget Fate
To kick off, council approved the millage rate of 4.039 mills.
“This is the tenth year in a row we’ve maintained the millage rate,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
After the meeting, O’Reilly clarified that while the city has maintained the millage rate, property values have increased, putting more money into the city budget.
“Said monies raised by the 4.039 mills shall be used for the general operation of the City of Gulfport for the aforementioned fiscal period,” the resolution reads.
The budget, $15,506,660 that will fund the city from October 1 of this year through September 30, 2022, was approved by the council.
O’Reilly added that more funds from property and sales tax increases, among other things, put an additional $126,000 into the city’s coffers.
An additional $22,500 will go to a facility security project for the Community Development Building at 5330 23rd Ave. S.
“We don’t have cameras or anything like that,” O’Reilly said. “We think it’s time that happens over there.”
The city manager added that additional changes to the budget would allow for a public art project and pavers added to the Gulfport Waterfront District.
“Other than the $22,500, there is no financial impact to the general fund,” O’Reilly clarified.
A sweep of approvals allowed for council to green light increases in water, utility, sewer, garbage, stormwater and recycling costs.
Council approved a language change that modified the ordinances’ use of the word “living units” to just “units.”
Monthly costs for water, utility and sewer will increase by 8 %, while garbage and recycling will raise by 6% and stormwater will increase by 11.8%
For example, a household that uses the minimum of 2,000 gallons a month will see their water bill go from $18.28 to $19.74. A more average 4,000 gallon a month home will see the bill raise from $37.78 to $40.80.
See more examples of household utility increases here.
The increase was met with irritation by some residents.
“My wife and I have lived here two decades and we’re very appreciative of the services, but I do object to the increase in any utility fees,” said Zoom commenter Ralph Warmick. “Our utility rates have gone up for our home by 30 percent…I think that’s exorbitant and unreasonable.”
Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson noted that the water increases are not negotiable, as Gulfport buys its water from the City of St. Petersburg and cannot charge residents less than what they pay to St. Pete. The mayor added that his personal water bill is now 50% higher than it was in 2006.
“We’re at the mercy of the cost that St. Pete charges us for the water,” Henderson said. “We have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to buffer the effects of the rising costs…in many ways our hands are tied.”
Councilmember April Thanos suggested picking trash up only once a week or using smaller bins to lessen the cost for those who create less waste. It was noted that the City of Clearwater collects garbage once a week at this time.
“The smell becomes a bit of an issue…with a one week pickup,” Henderson countered.
“I spoke to people that live on my street with kids about it and they said, ‘Once a week, you got to be out of your mind,” Councilmember Paul Ray said.
Thanos maintained that she would like to see how Clearwater fairs with the new system of trash pickup, and would like to have a future discussion on smaller cans.
More Approvals, More Money
Council approved an ordinance changing the age requirements for the distribution of the Gulfport Firefighters Retirement Pension Fund and the City of Gulfport Municipal Police Officers’ Trust Fund from 70.5 to 72 years.
“There’s no financial impact [for the city],” O’Reilly said.
Both changes stemmed from changes to the Internal Revenue Code and the Internal Revenue Service.
“The applicable changes (amendments) include updating pension plan language related to comply with the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in relation to the required distribution age increasing from 70 1/2 to age 72,” the city website states.
The city also approved a contract with the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management for Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds in the amount of $6,181,536.
Council has not yet decided how to use the Recovery Funds, but the approval confirmed that Gulfport is requesting the amount.
“We’ll be meeting with our auditors this week and we hope in October to bring forth a list [on how to use the funds]…we have not received dollar one yet,” O’Reilly ended with a laugh.
Rounding out the string of approvals, council OKed an additional three-year contract with the Pinellas County Professional Firefighters Union.
“The Pinellas County Professional Firefighters Local 4966 of the I.A.F.F. is the union that represents the City of Gulfport’s 12 firefighters and 3 lieutenants,” the memorandum reads.
Overheard at the September 7 Gulfport City Council Meeting
“It kind of lit a fire under my last meeting. I don’t necessarily want to rehash this music ordinance thing…When I see something negatively impact the financial obligations of a business it really hits home to me and aches my heart a little bit. I believe we could collaborate on and come to some kind of better understanding and agreement. I think it could be a win, win, win. I’m here to offer those services..maybe we put together some council-appointed committee…(Councilmember Paul Ray) and I would be willing to have some type of workshop where we come up with some other types of agreements.” – Barbara Banno, President of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber and owner of Stella’s in the Village Courtyard.
“The live streaming of the fireworks [at GeckoFest] was excellent. I sat in my pool with a beer and didn’t have to worry about traffic or anything and I really enjoyed it. I got to lead the parade. If I do it next year I’m bringing candy.” – Councilmember Paul Ray
“I had brought up the other day about the parking signs for residents only on those first couple blocks before Shore Boulevard and so I went around…I checked how many off-street parking spaces each of the houses had. I would still request we look at taking those signs away. Being that parking is an issue, that would be a small step to improve that.” – Councilmember April Thanos