At the Gulfport City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 17 at 6 p.m, councilmembers questioned if the next scheduled meeting would be safe for staff and residents to attend.
The meeting, held via Zoom, a popular internet-based teleworking software, allowed councilmembers to conduct business as usual.
In light of current social distancing measures, the City of Gulfport made public meetings such as council available four different ways: Live stream on the city’s website, Gulfport TV 640 (Spectrum only); dial-in by phone and the Zoom app, which is available for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
Council will decide by Friday, June 26 whether to hold a live meeting on Tuesday, July 7. Council does not know if the state of Florida will continue their contract with Zoom, and the majority of the board does not feel comfortable meeting in the confines of City Hall.
“I’m not going to feel comfortable bringing people into that small space,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. “I suggest we move the July 7th agenda to the July 21st agenda. After all we’ve done to be cautious, I don’t want us at the end to blow it by inviting a room full of people back into our council meeting to potentially expose people unnecessarily.”
Utility Rate Sufficiency Study
Andrew Burnham, Vice President of Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. presented Gulfport’s annual Utility Rate Sufficiency Study to council Tuesday, June 16.
The study shows that Gulfport residents should expect to see annual increases in their utility bills.
A one-dollar charge will be added to the service fee, and also a varying 2.5 percent to 7.25 percent increase per year, according to Burnham.
“Preliminary results show reduction in water rate but wastewater/sewer rates will be higher due to our wholesale water and sewer water treatments,” he said.
City Manager Jim O’Reilly explained the 25 percent surcharge Gulfport pays to the City of St. Petersburg to share their water hookup to Pinellas County.
Twelve years ago when Gulfport was given the option to connect independently to the county, “we identified that increases would be substantial,” said O’ Reilly. “We’ve looked at it in the past, what you can buy from the county – 12 years ago it would’ve cost $5 million.”
Citizens should expect the ordinance concerning enacting these rate increases to be discussed on Tuesday, July 21.
Watch the presentation for a full explanation by Andrew Burnham. (Start video at 03:15)
Stormwater Run-off and Rain Gardens Presentation
Natural Resources Manager Michael Bauer, J.D., Ph.D., gave a presentation about the regrowth of natural stormwater runoff successes they’ve had in Naples.
Bauer explained the importance of mangroves, oyster beds and seagrass to the filtration of bacteria, fertilizers and pesticides out of stormwater before it flows into large bodies of water like Boca Ciega Bay.
Watch the presentation by Michael Bauer, J.D., Ph.D (Start Video 30:17)
Consent Agenda Passed Unanimously
John McEwen was appointed to the General Employees’ Pension Board.
David W. Kanter was appointed to the Firefighters’ Pension Board.
Jo Hastings was appointed as an Alternate Member to the Planning and Zoning Board/Local Planning Agency.
R3- Passed Unanimously
Council approved resolution 2020-34 establishing the Gulfport Individual Utility Assistance Fund – Residential Recovery & Resiliency R3 Program for Gulfport residents.
O’Reilly noted one change to the policy: those who have a lien against their name, not just at the location they live, will be found ineligible for the grant.
The city will start accepting applications next week. Here’s the schedule:
Cycle 1 – Application Open Date: June 24, 2020 – Cutoff Date: July 8, 2020
Cycle 2 – Application Open Date: July 1, 2020 – Cutoff Date: July 15, 2020
Cycle 3 – Application Open Date: July 8, 2020 – Cutoff Date: July 22, 2020
Cycle 4 – Application Open Date: July 15, 2020 – Cutoff Date: July 29, 2020
Residents can expect three flyers in their next bill, with information on the Two Billion text message alert, the CARES act, and the freshly approved R3 program.
Councilmember April Thanos called for a Citizens Committee.
“Anybody who is interested in sustainability for Gulfport, whether that’s environmental, social, economic, whatever should come together,” said Thanos. “It would be a way to hear from citizens on what they’re interested in and give them a chance to work on things that are their pet issues and help us all learn more.” Thanos encouraged interested residents to contact her directly.
During his council comments, Councilmember Mike Fridovich requested permitting powerboats in the mooring field. Councilmembers Brown and Ray echoed Fridovich’s request. O’ Reilly and staff will begin the amendment process.
Mayor Sam Henderson thanked Gulfport for participating in peaceful activities and standing up against societal inequalities.
“I have been very proud of Gulfport with everything that’s going on. I think it’s wonderful that people have come out to speak out about some long standing inequalities that need to be addressed peacefully and organized.”
Henderson then spoke out against defunding the Gulfport Police Department.
“I don’t see the good in defunding police departments that have done nothing wrong, that have gone out of their way to be responsible for their actions within the community,” said Henderson. “I hate to see all police thrown under the bus due to the bad behaviours, the criminal behaviors, of some other people.”
Overheard at the remote Gulfport City Council Meeting June 16
“City manager, would you remind everyone why we’re raising our rates? Because we really have no choice because of St. Pete.” – Councilmember Fridovich after the Utility Rate Sufficiency Study presentation.
“When I came to this city ten years ago, I just thought this town was so doggone charming. But now, in addition to it being charming, it’s cleaner. And of course, when I say clean I’m not talking about the trash, that’s much worse.” – Gulfport resident Karen, calling in for public comment.
“Part of our problem is education. I think so many people just throw fertilizer at a lawn no matter what the problem is. And that’s really hard to get that message across. You start to see your lawn looking poor and you want to throw fertilizer at. Hopefully we can change that paradigm over time.” – Mayor Henderson in response to the Stormwater Run-off and Rain Gardens Presentation.
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