The June 15 Gulfport City Council meeting sped through most of the agenda items in just 30 minutes before pivoting into a lengthy discussion on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. This meeting will be the last for over a month, as council agreed to not meet on the usual date of July 6, and will next meet July 20.
LGBTQ Resource Center Gets $5k
At the start of the June 15 council meeting, Councilmember Paul Ray presented a check for $5,032 to Susan Gore of the Gulfport Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center, money raised by the recent Gulfport Pride event on May 29.
“This city is extraordinary. I just wanted to thank each of the councilmembers, Mayor Sam, Jim O’Reilly, everyone who helps support the LGBTQ Resource Center – thank you from the bottom of our heart,” Gore said, accepting the check.
Noise Ordinance Debate Continues
Kelly Wright, co-owner of the North End Taphouse, the central figure in the recent drama over noise complaints, presented to council a list of restaurants along Shore Boulevard that signed on in support of the temporary adjustment to Gulfport’s noise ordinance proposed by Mayor Sam Henderson at the last city council meeting.
The proposal lost in a 2-3 vote on June 1, but Councilmember April Thanos, after seeing the petition, said she would be willing to reverse her earlier “no” vote now that other restaurants had been consulted.
The current noise ordinance sets the maximum noise amount at 65 decibels, and drops to 55 at 11 p.m., but the temporary change would raise the limit to 75 decibels for most of the day, but drop to 55 at 10 p.m., an hour earlier. This shift would serve as a compromise between restaurant owners and musicians who have complained about having police called for even lower-volume performances, and local residents who have complained about loud music being played late into the evening.
Councilmembers Ray and Christine Brown retained their “no” votes, with Ray insisting that bars and musicians are too loud already.
“I still don’t see that there’s a viable reason to have to raise it even higher….I’ve been to every one of the restaurants, I’ve been to every one of the bars, listened to music for years and years…. and I often have to get up and walk out, it’s too loud. I can’t have a conversation with [my husband] or any of my friends in the place,” Ray said.
The vote passed 3-2, and the change begins its 30-day trial period on June 16.
Council Continues Budget Discussion
After quickly approving a $31,895 repair of the Gulfport Casino’s dock, and an update to the city’s pension plan increasing the required distribution age from 70 and a half to 72, council moved on to a lengthy discussion of the coming year’s fiscal budget.
The discussion was the fourth in as many meetings on the upcoming budget, which needed a sizable overhaul to account for the losses in revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the last meeting, the majority of the budget discussion revolved around the $5,186,383 in federal money Gulfport is set to receive as part of the American Recovery Act, with each councilmember listing projects they’d like to see funded; several members had more ideas to add at this meeting as well.
Ray, who hosted a public meeting seeking input from local residents between the two meetings, suggested improvements to sidewalks and handicap accessibility, an increase in bike racks in high-traffic areas, and an increase in the number of large trees planted around the city.
Thanos requested a splash pad along the beach for children; the mayor suggested a mobile stage for city events; and Councilmember Michael Fridovich doubled down on his suggestion to repair lateral sewer lines.
All the suggestions from both meetings, and budget concerns discussed, will be taken into account and incorporated into a budget proposal to be presented at a future meeting.
Overheard at the June 15 Gulfport City Council Meeting
“I would like to request that the ‘Resident Only’ parking signs be removed that are on the west side of Beach [Boulevard], below 28th [Avenue]. There are no similar signs to the east side of Beach, so on the east side of Beach they take all the overflow parking… I think we can free up a bunch more spots on both if we allowed our visitors to park on both sides.” –Resident Karen Love
“In regards to the Boca Ciega Yacht Club lease discussions, the city attorney and I have been meeting with the BCYC group… You also have a letter on record that basically asked them to be out of the property by June 30; we’d ask that you take formal action this evening… to allow that to sunset, leaving the city attorney and I to continue work with them.” – City Manager Jim O’Reilly to Mayor Sam Henderson. Henderson led a brief consensus vote, which passed, formally suspending the earlier BCYC eviction.
“I was shocked, if not disgusted to see some of the disparities in the salaries of some of the employees of Gulfport who are in similar positions, some making $20,000 a year more than others… I would like to suggest to you that with the funds you’re receiving, you strongly consider doing a salary survey. It’s not cheap, but you have the money now, and from what I understand it’s never been done in 20 years or 25 years.” – Resident Margaret Tober
“Peter Hargitai was kind enough to put together a book of Gulfport poets, and we had a little opening, read some poetry, and had the book passed out on Sunday. So I just wanted to thank Peter and Diane Hargitai for all the work in putting this thing together, and I know there’s 12 poets included in there, the Mayor being one of them.” – Councilmember Michael Fridovich, whose work is also included in the book