Tuesday, February 17, Gulfport Council met the new Gulfport police K-9 unit, spoke with the local Habitat for Humanities branch, and approved a permit for Get Rescued, before hearing what each branch of the city accomplished in the last fiscal year. For more on the presentations and decisions, see “Overheard at Gulfport City Council” below.
The night’s meeting – held in-person at the Catherine Hickman Theater and via Zoom – began with a series of presentations, including the introduction of the Gulfport Police Department’s new K-9 unit, featuring Cezar and Ghost. Cheryl Hannafin, the city’s finance director, then accepted the Financial Reporting Achievement Award, marking Gulfport’s 37th year as a recipient of the national award.
Habitat for Humanity Seeks Residents
Mike Sutton, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, spoke on his organization’s goal of building 70 new affordable homes in Pinellas County this year. Habitat for Humanity has not built a home in Gulfport since 2018, and so far has no plans to do so this year, but Sutton wants to reach out to families or individuals in Gulfport that are looking to own a home, and ask them to apply on their website. Once they receive and approve an application, HFH can buy land in the applicant’s home community, and build a home to fit their needs, transferring ownership to them with a 0% interest loan.
Council in the Mood to Approve
Council approved Caroline Woodruff’s appointment to the Gulfport Board of Adjustment, which has the final say on zoning requirements. Council also approved the Gulfport Merchants Chamber of Commerce’s application for the annual Get Rescued fundraiser on Beach Boulevard on February 27. The event will feature 102 booths of pet-themed vendors and rescue organizations to raise money and awareness for different animal causes. The booths will be spaced 6 to 10 feet apart, with handwashing stations at each block, and visitors will have to pass a temperature scan and wear a mask to enter the event. Volunteers will also distribute masks to those who need one.
City Recaps the Year
Council wrapped up the meeting with a general overview of the fiscal year, as leaders from each municipal department presented the highs and lows from the year.
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent reported slight increase in crimes on persons – including murder, robbery, and assault – over the last few years, and an ongoing decrease in property crimes, like burglary, over the same period.
Gulfport Public Library Director David Mather reported that between in-person and virtual events, the library served over 16,000 people last year, compared to 12,000 the year prior.
Justin Shea, Gulfport’s Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor, shared that between the two mask distribution sites at the Public Works Office and Gulfport Casino, the city gave out over 55,000 face coverings between June 9 and October 15.
Finally, Hannafin presented the year’s financial statistics, including the fact that between 2014 and now, the city has earned close to $5 million in grants, with $860,000 more pending, largely due to COVID-related delays.
Overheard at Gulfport City Council
“One of the biggest misconceptions about Habitat, besides the fact that everyone thinks Jimmy Carter is our CEO, is that we build homes and give them away for free, that’s not the case. Our homeowners are folks that fall in an income range where they are not able to qualify for a traditional loan, but they make too much to receive any government assistance.” – Mike Sutton, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco.
“I just want to let everyone know that the Pink Flamingo Garden Tour is Saturday, March 6th, it’s an all-outdoor event; we’ll be viewing all kinds of backyards, from edible landscapes to meditation spots, [and] lots of chickens…” – Caron Schwartz, who added that tickets are $10 ahead of time and $15 at the door.
“In the last 24 to 48 hours, we’ve had an extreme number of negative posts on social media. The city has been called racist, anti-semetic, gay-bashers, uncaring to the homeless and mentally ill … We must all stop with all this name-calling. I believe that the city council and the city manager must address some of these issues from the dais… The city council must clearly and precisely respond to some of these accusations until the majority of folks know the facts. Silence and pretending that this isn’t a problem doesn’t work.” – Karen Love
“In comparing my two [water] bills… it’s about two cents a gallon for Gulfport compared to half a cent a gallon in St. Pete… I think it’s kind of onerous for a business to bear that kind of cost… I would like the council to consider commercial water rates for folks such as myself. I am getting it from other municipalities and would appreciate the consideration.” – Clay Ham, owner of Soapy’s Laundromat chain, on the difference between his utility bills in and outside Gulfport.
“Caroline has been in Gulfport a few years now; she’s a really good friend of mine, too. She’s a very detail-orientated person who’s done a lot of work with other types of environments – her previous experience will really come in handy. We do appreciate all the work that Mr. Seawall has done for us over the years and regret watching him resign, but we really do thank him for everything that he’s done.” – Councilmember Paul Ray on the appointment of Caroline Woodruff to the Gulfport Board of Adjustment to replace William Seawall.