At their virtual meeting Wednesday, August 19 at 6 p.m., Gulfport City Council passed utility bill increases and approved insurance policy renewals. The meeting was held via Zoom.
Mayor Sam Henderson and City Clerk Lesley Demuth were excused from the meeting. Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich led the meeting, while Deputy City Clerk Kathy Cook-Tatay sat in for Demuth.
Residents Sing Praises to Public Works and City Staff
The evening’s first public comments came from resident Karen Love, praising city staff for their commitment to and improvement of Gulfport.
“I want to thank the city and the staff for working so hard during this pandemic and continuing on our projects and improvements,” said Love. “I also want to thank the police and particularly Chief Vincent for projecting an attitude and agenda which is helping keep our citizens calm during these hard times.”
“Those people in the utility department care more than you’ll ever know about how people’s bills are created, if there were mistakes. I can’t begin to tell you how good those folks are and it goes all the way up to Cheryl [Hannafin, City of Gulfport Director of Finance],” said resident Margarete Tober. “When Cheryl knows the name of residents that have issues you know they’re involved.”
Talks Begin: Reopening Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market
The Gulfport Merchants Chamber has started the dialogue with the city about resuming the Tuesday Fresh Market.
Chamber President Barbara Banno submitted the GMC’s proposal to the council regarding updated operational procedures in the event the market does reopen.
The GMC originally projected a Tuesday, September 8 comeback for the market, but it may be about a month longer according to Banno. “We didn’t realize how much work we really have to put into it, to make sure we keep our community safe.”
One guideline Banno informed the council concerning the newest Tuesday Fresh Market operational guidelines was shifting booth entrances. The booths would be spaced further about and rotated sideways to free up congestion on the sidewalks. There will be hand sanitizer stations setup along Beach Blvd S and volunteers will roam
“The market is a symbol of our community,” said Banno. “And we feel that all of the guidelines we will have in place do add a lot of safety to the community and adds a little bit of normalcy back into our lives.”
Send inquiries about Gulfport’s Tuesday Fresh Market to firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council Addresses The Tempest Over Utility Bills
City Council held second readings for four ordinances concerning utility bill increases. Gulfport City Council met in person July 21 at city hall for the initial reading of ordinances 2020-03 through 2020-05. Since then comments on local Facebook pages have caused some waves.
Resident Karen Love called in during public comment to address the confusion churning in the Facebook community.
“I’ve been in the city for about 10 years now and I feel that there are more complaints and conspiracy theories about what the city does about these water bills and the fact that they don’t get answers,” said Love. “I personally don’t believe that.”
“If an individual has a specific case with their water bill, my staff and I are more than willing to help,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “I don’t want to get into a debate about what’s being said on Facebook. If an individual is willing to speak to us about their water bill we’ll be happy to talk to them.”
O’Reilly further explained what the percentage increases mean in dollars and cents.
The increase in sewage disposal, garbage, recycling, water service, storm sewers and storm water utility fees will increase a total of $5.12 for minimum use bills and $8.60 for 4,000 gallon monthly usage.
Councilmember Paul Ray also addressed Facebook comments on water bills.
“It goes through crescendo from time to time. Every time I see somebody that’s posting something, I always send them a private message saying ‘please contact me’ and 99 percent of the time I don’t hear back from them. The ones that have gone forward to talk to the city manager or the water department have had resolution.”
Insurance Policy Renewal
Council unanimously passed four resolutions covering insurance policy renewals.
The first resolution concerned city employee health insurance coverage with Public Risk Management of Florida Health Trust, Florida Blue.
Renewal of the policy will incur a 3.5% or a $20.95 monthly increase for coverage during the 2020/2021 FY.
The city currently pays the employee’s entire base premium and a maximum of $2,400 will be allocated for each employee electing dependent health insurance coverage. The city’s cost for each eligible covered employee will increase from $598.80 to $619.75 – a total estimated cost of $1,105,684.
The city’s coverage for employee long-term disability from Standard Insurance Company for 2020/2021 FY is expected to be approximately $47,916. There is no increase in cost.
The city provides eligible employees with life and accidental death and dismemberment coverage from Standard Insurance Company. The 2020/2021 FY annual premium is expected to be approximately $34,225, with no increase in cost.
The city’s insurance coverage with Public Risk Management of Florida will increase by 11.18 percent for a total of $81,331 during the 2020/2021 FY. This includes property insurance, workers’ compensation, general liability, automotive liability and public officials liability.
According to the city, Gulfport originally projected a 10% renewal rate increase, but due to the current social and economic climate, the property insurance marketplace increases were higher than expected.
Gulfport has made efforts to keep claims down, according to the city, including efforts of the Safety Committee, Accident Review Policy, Drug Free Workforce Program and recurring safety training specific to individual departments.
Overheard at the August 19 Virtual Council Meeting
“School starts Monday, so be careful of the little children riding their bikes and going to school. Be careful of school zones; don’t speed through them, they’re expensive. And, please pay attention.” – Councilmember Christine Brown during council comments.
“Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. Now if we could just do equal pay for equal work, that would be nice.” – Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich
“You might not like yourself, but please like other people and wear your masks.” – Fridovich during council comments.
“We’re looking at doing outdoor movies at the Catholic church. Hopefully we’ll be able to start those early September, drive in or walk in; it would be a way to have some entertainment, socially distanced.” – Councilmember April Thanos during council comments.