With less than unanimous approval, Gulfport’s mayor and councilmembers approved a 20 percent pay raise for themselves, as well as a new skate park during the Tuesday, May 16 meeting.
“I said when I brought this up, it’s unpopular,” said Mayor Sam Henderson of the pay increase for councilmembers.
The most recent pay adjustment for council members was in 2014 and was an increase of 25 percent from the last one to $1,000 per month for the mayor and $750 per month for councilmembers plus expenses.
Ordinance 2017-04 under consideration during the May 16 meeting proposed increases to $1,200 for the mayor and $900 for councilmembers.
After a long discussion at the May 2 council meeting, Henderson said on May 16, “We’re still talking about a standard cost-of-living increase being three percent. So, I went back and looked and that comes out at roughly $1,400” a month for the mayor “and $1,100 once you round it close” for councilmembers. “I would like to re-propose this amount. [It] is far less than 1 percent of our general fund and [it’s] not a lot.”
Gulfport is managed by what is called a “council – city manager” form of government, as opposed to some Florida municipalities that are run by a “council – strong mayor” option.
Councilmember Michael Fridovich motioned to approve the pay increases based on the higher numbers suggested by Henderson. No one seconded.
“I can’t support the second because you put that letter in the Gabber,” said Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke. “You’re locked in, now. It’s golden. You can’t go back on your word.”
In the May 11 edition of the Gabber, Henderson wrote in a column, “I have proposed that council be eligible for a raise. At the last council meeting, council voted 4-1 to increase the monthly stipend from $750 to $900 for council and from $1,000 to $1,200 for mayor. This represents less than a 3 percent annual cost of living adjustment over the last 17 years. I believe that is a good thing.”
In response to Liedtke on May 16, Henderson said, “I’m not going back on my word. We’re in a second hearing.”
Henderson then asked if Fridovich would adjust his motion to the lower numbers.
“No,” said Fridovich.
Liedtke then motioned to approve the pay increases based on the $1,200 and $900 numbers, as written in the ordinance under consideration, and Councilmember Christine Brown seconded.
“All we are trying to do is adjust the cost of living to time put in,” said Fridovich. “Part-time employees in two years do not get 769 emails from one person or in four years, 1,668 emails from one person.”
Being a councilmember, Fridovich said, “might be considered a part-time job, but it’s a full-time responsibility. So, whether it’s this council that gets a pay raise or the next, your council deserves it for putting themselves out there.”
Henderson said, “I don’t know how many part-time employees at the library or Casino receive hate mail for the job they do.” Comparing councilmembers to part-time employees, he continued, “is a little bit crazy. [These] are not the same kinds of jobs. I feel if we are taking care of our other employees, we should be a part of that too.”
The pay increase was approved by a three to two split vote. Henderson, Brown and Liedtke voted yes while Fridovich and Councilmember Yolanda Roman voted no.
New Skate Park Approved
Since the spring 2016 closing of the Tomlinson Lake Park skate park, located between 18th and 19th avenues and 54th and 55th streets, the city has been seeking grant funding and citizen opinions regarding the building of a new facility at the Michael J. Yakes Recreation Center, which borders Boca Ciega Bay.
One plan involved converting the existing basketball court.
On May 16, 2017, the council approved a location that saves the hoops and places the skate park at the southeast corner of the center.
“Thank you for saving the basketball courts,” said Phyllis Plotnick of Gulfport. “We pride ourselves so much for being a diverse community. We are diverse in some ways and not in other ways. I see the basketball court being used by people of all ages and all colors and all genders. I’m very appreciative that we have that kind of diversity reflected at least on those courts.”
Several years ago, Brown proposed the idea of moving the skate park to the center because of Kemper Pheil, then a young teenager from Gulfport. Pheil and some other kids “got together and did their homework” taking “measurements and pictures to keep the basketball court and put the skate park alongside” it, said Brown.
Now, Pheil is 17 years old and driving a car, said Scotty Pheil, his father. “I’m here for other kids that need to have a place to go to have fun. Thank you for looking into this.”
Brown said of Kemper Pheil, “Once a skater, always a skater.” He grinned and nodded from the audience.
The entire project will cost an estimated $125,000. One half will come from a Land and Water Conservation Fund Program Grant and the other half will be funded by the city.
The project was approved by a vote of four to one, with Liedtke dissenting.
Will Increase by Five Spaces
Phase 2 of the Shore Boulevard Recreation Trail project was unanimously approved and will result in the addition of five new parking spaces in the waterfront business district area east of the Gulfport Casino thanks to what will be 60-degree angled parking options on the north and south sides of Shore Boulevard S. Currently, parking in this area is parallel only.
Funded by a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant from the county, the project will also include a new boardwalk and trail from Beach Boulevard S. at the Casino to the Williams Pier along with street furnishings, landscaping and light fixtures.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail
At an estimated total cost of $250,000, the council unanimously approved the connection of Gulfport to St. Petersburg via a bicycle and pedestrian trail system located in Clam Bayou along with the installation of bicycle route sharrows and directional trail signage on existing roadways and rights-of-way within the city.
St. Petersburg has agreed to fund half of the construction costs of the connector in the bayou, an area that is shared between the two cities.