Gulfport City Council debated the fate of millions of dollars in COVID-19 funds, parking lot legalities and green-lit a fishing tournament, amongst other things at the Tuesday, October 5 meeting.
After months of what-ifs, council approved a contract with the State of Florida for the city’s portion of the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds amounting to $6,181,536.
The funds are part of the American Recovery Plan Act 2021 and come with enough stipulations that the city has hired David Alvarez with Carr, Riggs & Ingram to do research on what the city can and cannot use the money for.
An absolute “no” is the city spending the money to pay off any debts or put into a rainy day fund, says Alvarez.
“From the start of the CARES act, I’ve been a part of an 8 to 10 person group doing research on this,” Alvarez said. “This is not a 5,000 page act where every question you have they give definite answers, because governments are all over the place with what they’re spending the money on.”
Whatever decisions the council comes to, the money must meet at least one bullet in the series of criteria:
- Address the Negative Economic Impacts Caused by the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
- Support COVID-19 Related Public Health Expenditures
- Replace Lost Public Sector Revenue
- Provide Premium Pay for Essential Workers
- Invest in Water, Sewer and Broadband Infrastructure
City officials debated their economic priorities, which ranged from beach nourishment projects to a renovation of the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center.
According to City Manager Jim O’Reilly, council will come back with more concrete decisions at the next meeting, October 19.
“We’re recalibrating with council’s input and we are hoping to have more capital items focused for the next meeting,” O’Reilly told the Gabber. “I know it’s pretty vague and generic right now, but that’s because it’s a lot of information and we want to hone in on focus opportunities.”
The city agreed to look into a $50 voucher for local businesses per household stimulus, in lieu of the original concept to provide utility bill assistance.
Council moved away from the utility bill idea due to the complexity of identifying separate water meters in multiple household buildings and apartment complexes.
“This is something tangible we’re looking to do right around the holidays,” said Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson.
Alvarez said that this would be an eligible use as long as the city soley gave the certificates to people or businesses who can certify they suffered economic hardship during the pandemic.
It’s unclear if and how the city will identify individual households or businesses.
“Hypothetically, if the city wants to move forward then absolutely you could use [the money] for utilities,” said City of Gulfport’s Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin. “I don’t think this is something that’s out of our reach, but it is something we will have to work hard to do.”
Hannafin noted it would be more feasible to certify the funds through the businesses, but further discussion and research will be needed.
Council agreed that at least a portion of the money should be put into sewer infrastructure.
“Those are not sexy things, but those things have to get done,” said Councilmember Michael Fridovich. “If we don’t get them done now, we’re going to end up with the same problem we had ten years ago because 20 years ago no one paid attention to them.”
Half of the funds will arrive within 30 days, and the remaining funds will arrive within a year.
Pia’s Parking + Front Porch Culture
Council approved an ordinance on first reading permitting stand-alone ground-level parking lots within the Gulfport Waterfront District with no qualms.
The decision likely came in correspondence with Pia’s Trattoria’s adjacent parking lot at 3104 Beach Blvd. S. Business owner Pia Goff, opened the site as additional parking in April.
“It was brought to our attention earlier in the year that a business turned a piece of property into offsite parking,” O’Reilly said. “We had two remedies: one to enforce it…or bring you a zoning change…We elected to take the former.”
It was also a good day for folks who like to hang on a front porch in Gulfport.
Council approve an ordinance that allows open-air front porches that encroach into the owner’s yard by 25%.
“I think it’s a great idea, it makes the neighborhood more friendly,” said Councilmember April Thanos.
The city gave Rock the Bay Inshore Fishing Tournament & Festival a thumbs up at council, allowing for a two-day fishing tournament in off the Gulfport Marina, a team effort by the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Gulfport Merchants Chamber.
“Pretty unique that the Gateway to the Gulf has not yet had a fishing tournament,” O’Reilly said.
The event will take off with a pre-celebration on Thursday, November 11 and the competition on Saturday, November 13 and serve as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors program.
“Don’t ask me anything about what type of fish,” Gulfport Merchants Chamber President Barbara Banno said. “We’re very open to ideas…I think there are definitely opportunities to grow this to be a fantastic event.”
Weekly dancing will continue the Gulfport Casino Ballroom until at least 2022. Council quickly approved Retro Production Company for the continuance of their Wednesday Night Swing and Second Friday Soul dance services.
The city also approved a contract with Asphalt Paving Systems Inc for $381,201.75 for the next year.
Gulfport is getting $75,075 worth of new water meters from Neptune Technology Group as part of regular housekeeping, an expanse already in the budget.