Gulfport City Council held their regularly scheduled bi-monthly, 6 p.m. meeting virtually, on Tuesday, May 5. The meeting, held via Zoom, a popular internet-based teleworking software, allowed council to conduct business as usual.
In light of current social distancing measures, the City of Gulfport has made public meetings such as City Council Meetings available four different ways: Live stream on the city’s website, Gulfport TV 640 (Spectrum only); dial-in by phone and the Zoom app, which is available for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
This week’s meeting was loaded with information and decisions concerning Florida Governor Ron Desantis’ phase one re-opening guidelines and the unpredictability of a possible second COVID-19 wave this fall.
In other area cities, including St. Pete Beach and Ybor, city officials have given the go ahead to block certain traffic patterns in order to extend outdoor restaurant dining into the streets. City Manager Jim O’ Reilly addressed this option for Gulfport during the city manager’s report. In a unanimous decision, councilmembers rejected that idea. Gulfport will not shut down any portion of Beach or Shore boulevards in order to expand dining.
“I don’t want to do anything to invite people to come down into an event-type atmosphere, where the chances to congregate are greater,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. “This virus isn’t going away. I’m really thrilled that the restaurants can open and that we’ve given them some leeway for outdoor seating, but I have no desire to extend that into the roadways.”
According to O’Reilly, up to this point council has approved all submitted applications requesting outside dining permits on city property. The city also approves of businesses expanding outside seating for restaurants on private property, “as long as they are practicing social distancing guidelines in regards to group size and such,” caveated O’ Reilly.
“We all know there has been a slow to non-existent movement of money downward from the state and federal level not just for businesses, but residents as well,” said Mayor Henderson. “In light of this, Barbara Banno came to us as the head of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber and put forth some ideas.”
In support of restaurants and other local businesses, Mayor Henderson suggested changes to the COVID-19 Small Business Gateway Grant Program. The grant has maintained its $50,000 budget with a few slight changes. The numerical definition of a small business lowered from a minimum of three employees to a minimum of one to a max of 50. The grant will authorize 50 one-time-only $1,000 grants and 20 $500 grants to eligible applicants.
The money will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis and will be in the form of a credit on the applicant’s City of Gulfport utility bill.
“This will ensure the money comes back to the city,” said Henderson.
City Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin, chimed in with several reasons why the grant in the form of a utility bill credit is more beneficial than a cash grant:
- Fiscally responsible, allows the city to maintain positive control of the money
- Supports the premise of ongoing operations for the city and the small business
- Money is easily returned to the city if the business closes
- Eliminates unauthorized spending; “We know where the money is going directly to utilities – as a city the utility fund is our initiative.”
The money will be available until the funds run out. “Apply sooner than later,” advised Vice-Mayor Michael Fridovich.
“Who is on the approving committee for these grants?” asked newest Councilmember April Thanos.
“No one will decide who gets the money or who doesn’t,” responded O’ Reilly. “We will simply have a group to review the applications to see if the business qualifies or doesn’t qualify.”
“Thanks to Barbara Banno for helping out; I know she cares about the business community here and it shows” said Councilmember Christine Brown.
Mayor Henderson also alluded to a similar residential utility grant in the works. The proposed residential utility grant would forgive past due balances, not just postpone payment, explained Henderson.
“I’d like to potentially open this up to altruistic people who would like to donate to the seed fund of $50,000,” he said. The residential grant is expected to be ready for approval at the beginning of June.
Council Makes Changes to Events and Services
Independence Day will not be as bright this year, as council agreed to postpone the city’s fireworks display. Gulfport’s annual fireworks show has a new tentative date of Saturday, September 5, Geckofest Eve.
“My fear is that if we don’t postpone, then a larger city in the area can elect to not have theirs and the larger population could move to Gulfport,” O’ Reilly said.
Council agreed to extend GEMS registration fees for the next two months, or for the length of time the program has been halted. This will allow members to prorate their memberships for unused months.
The pride flag will be raised on Saturday, May 30, however there will be no sponsored festivities.
Finally, council agreed to lower the price of a mooring field reservation from $337 a month to $168.50. The new pricing took effect on Wednesday, May 6 and will stay in effect until August 1.
Council will also continue to host virtual meetings throughout May and June to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Gulfport Supports Ratification of the ERA
Councilmember Paul Ray proposed Florida to be the 39th state to ratify the Equal rights amendment. Initially on March 22, 1972, the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States was sent to the 50 States for ratification, guaranteeing equal legal rights for all citizens regardless of gender.
According to equalrightsamendment.org, 12 states have not ratified the amendment, including Florida. Gulfport Council unanimously agreed to support the State of Florida’s Legislature taking action to ratify the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“Well past due,” stated Vice Mayor Fridovich.
Overheard at the Gulfport City Council Meeting
“This makes me really sad.” – Councilmember Christine Brown after the Council agreed to postpone the fourth of July fireworks show.
“I’m not convinced this thing [COVID-19] isn’t going to come back and bite us in September.” – Vice Mayor Fridovich in response to City Manager Jim O’ Reilly’s suggestion to postpone the city’s fourth of July fireworks show to Geckofest eve.
“Disney and Seaworld are doing it. It’s a great idea.” – Councilmember Brown in regards to prorating GEMS memberships.
“If you don’t respect your own body, respect others around you – wear your masks.” – Vice Mayor Fridovich while discussing social distancing guidelines during council comments.
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