Gulfport City Council discussed finalizing the fiscal year 2020-21 budget, millage rates (again) and shared their concerns over Councilmember April Thanos’ Gulfport’s Sustainability Committee, during an unusual Thursday evening regular meeting on September 3 over Zoom.
City Clerk Lesley Demuth was excused from the meeting; Deputy City Clerk Kathy Cook-Tatay sat in for her. Vice Mayor Mike Fridovich appeared on screen just after roll-call, citing computer issues.
Council held a first reading and public hearing discussing millage rates and the finalized operational budget for fiscal year 2020-2021.
According to City Manager Jim O’Reilly, the proposed millage rate of 4.039 mills, which has been consistent over the last nine years, will generate approximately $4,250,765 in ad valorem revenue for the city.
Property values have also increased by 8.39-percent, O’Reilly said, bringing the total taxable property value for Gulfport to $85,731,674.
Ordinance 2020-09 passed without much discussion. The operational budget, however, took a bit more of the spotlight.
Councilmember April Thanos voted “no” on the city’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget. Thanos suggested taking some of the projected $65,000 for the Gulfport Police Department’s K-9 unit, and possibly $20,000 from the $400,000 paving budget, for tennis/pickleball courts. Over the past few city council meetings Thanos has openly disapproved of the Gulfport Police Department investing in K-9 units.
“I think, especially during a pandemic, when people want to be socializing and outdoors, that that would be a better use of that money, and for that reason I wouldn’t support this budget,” said Thanos.
In spite of Thanos’ objection, the ordinance passed with a four-to-one vote in favor of the submitted budget.
The second reading and final vote for the city’s operational budget will be discussed on Tuesday, September 15.
City Hall, GPD Open to the Public
City Manager O’Reilly announced the reopening of the Gulfport City Hall lobby, police department lobby and the Community Redevelopment and Building Department. Opening is projected for Tuesday, September 8.
“We’re still encouraging online submission of plans and applications electronically,” said O’Reilly “We will phase in customers coming in.”
Also, recreation is expanding from just the after-school programming to adult classes and teen night, all only attendable if participants agree to practice social distancing and use face coverings.
The city manager reported that though the GEMs operations are expanding, the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center will remain closed; the Catherine Hickman Theater and the Gulfport Casino are still closed to large gatherings.
Also up in the city manager’s report: The resiliency R3 program is coming to a close on September 30. O’Reilly reported 127 grants to residents, resulting in over $36,000.
Additionally, the $3.25 convenience fee for online credit card payments for utility bills will also be reinstated on October 1.
More Money Talk
Williams Pier renovations are on track, however workers found further damage since the original inspection. Working with concrete and rebar in salt water has caused a few additional issues, said O’Reilly.
Council unanimously passed an adjusted contract with Midcoast Construction for the Williams Pier Rehabilitation Project. The adjustment adds an additional $148,585.00 to the current cost of the project.
The deadline for pier completion hasn’t shifted since the Gabber first reported on this, and the project is still expected to shed its barricades October 2020.
Gulfport Public Works Director Tom Nicholls expects the repairs to hold up for 15 to 20 years, based on the evaluation and structural assessment report done in March 2019 by engineering company Cardno. Other maintenance and repairs are expected over the next five to 10 years.
The city is calling for resident input on grant funding for Town Shores and the city’s intentions to perform water pipeline improvements for the community.
The city is requesting $1,237,487 in federal funds that the city won’t have to match. It’s expected the money will improve just one section of infrastructure needs for Town Shores.
“The comment period [began] on Friday, August 28 and ends on Friday, September 11. Please submit all comments below or email them to Tom Nicholls, Public Works Director at email@example.com. All comments must be received no later than close of business on September 11, 2020 to be included with the application package submitted to the State of Florida.” according to the city’s website, mygulfport.us/deo.
Council will revisit resolution No. 2020-48, concerning Casino Dock Renovation and Replacement, during the September 15 meeting. The top bidder, Docks by the Bay, LLC, rescinded their offer. The City Manager will seek out another vendor.
Gulfport Sustainability Committee Draws Ire
Councilmember April Thanos spoke to council and residents on September 3 about Gulfport’s Sustainability Committee. Since she won her position as Ward 1 representative in March, Thanos founded the Gulfport Sustainability Committee.
Gulfport’s Sustainability Committee – which is meant to be a resident-run organization – was designed by Thanos to help businesses and residents who have questions, concerns or ideas about the betterment of Gulfport. According to Thanos, member residents would look into improvements and suggestions for the city and bring them to council.
“We work on anything and everything to make Gulfport an even better place to live while supporting our residents and businesses,” said Thanos. Though Thanos is a city official, she says the committee is not meant to be a city organization.
During the Wednesday, August 19 council meeting, Thanos requested agenda time to discuss the GSC. Thanos presented councilmembers with a list of concerns from the committee and asked each councilmember to join a cause for the committee.
Fridovich was the first to speak.
“April, one of the things that kind of surprised me was your list, to be honest with you – it almost looks like a shadow government of sorts,” said Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich on September 3. “I expecHted your committee to come back with some environmental issues, but not to the extent of almost taking over city council as far as every issue we deal with.”
Fridovich elaborated on his concern about Thanos’ committee.
“Are you going to try and limit the scope or keep it totally open to deal with everything [council is] dealing with, but with a separate government kind of attitude?” asked Fridovich.
“It’s not like we’re trying to take over things,” said Thanos. “Some of these people have a pet peeve. For instance, like Karen Love. Her pet peeve is trash. She goes around picking up trash and her request is for more trash cans.”
However, Fridovich was not alone in his concerns.
“I’ve seen some things that are on [the Gulfport Sustainability Committee’s] topic list that we’ve been addressing and have done a fabulous job,” said Councilmember Christine Brown. “For instance, stormwater. We’ve gotten awards for our stormwater runoff ponds and we have several of them.”
Mayor Sam Henderson agreed.
“We actually have plans for extension on what we’ve already done,” said Henderson. “I think we’ve done more in the last 10 years to address water quality. The level, the amount of money and attention we’ve given to water quality issues here have not just been necessary, but phenomenal.”
Henderson suggested that Thanos reacquaint herself with city programs and suggested that she might find answers to some of her committee’s questions.
“One thing I would encourage, just so your organization isn’t spinning their wheels on things, is finding out things the city has already done,” said Henderson. “They are going into it already armed with what’s already happening, what exists out there, so you’re not focusing on something that may not be as much of an issue as someone may think.”
Overhead at the September 3 Gulfport City Council Meeting
“You talked about sidewalks that are ADA compliant. Are there some that aren’t? Hasn’t that ADA compliance been in since the ‘70s?” – Councilmember Chrsitine Brown to Thanos during the Gulfport Sustainability Committee discussion.
“There are 23 bike racks in six-tenths of a mile. I’ve only counted six bikes locked up at a time.” – Councilmember Brown addressing requests from the Gulfport Sustainability Committee, which were presented by Councilmember Thanos.
“This is Gulfport; you’ve gotta lock your bike.” – Thanos to Brown’s claim that the city has too many bike racks in one area.
“I know this may sound funny coming from someone who’s been in the environmental field for 20 years, but there are a lot of things that are great to do on the small-scale side, but don’t necessarily have a big impact when you’re talking about doing things at the municipal level. It’s been my career for 20 years. It’s clearly what I care about.” – Mayor Henderson in his comments during the Gulfport Sustainability Committee discussion.
“Paul, is there anything besides the rain garden you’re interested in?” – Thanos to Councilmember Paul Ray at the conclusion of the Gulfport Sustainability Committee discussion.