During the Tuesday, March 20 regular council meeting, Director of Public Works Tom Nicholls presented Mayor Sam Henderson and the city the 2017-2018 Florida West Coast Branch of the American Public Works Association’s Technical and Management Innovation Award for their 49th Street Outfall project, which was completed in 2017.
The award recognizes the city for a creative idea, process or system that serves the public and protects the environment, said Nicholls.
Don Sopak, former Gulfport Public Works Director who is now retired, said in June 2017 that the storm water treatment diversion system “will prevent 7,500 pounds of pollutants, annually, from going into Boca Ciega Bay.” Prior to the installation of the system, material used to float down 49th Street South and into the waterway.
“My family did the Clam Bayou clean-up last weekend and we had a hard time finding anything to pick up,” said Vice Mayor Christine Brown. Boca Ciega Bay flows into Clam Bayou and both bodies of water border the city to the south and east respectively. “I know that is a direct result of this project and that’s really great.”
Mayor Sam Henderson said, “It’s good to see that the project is doing exactly what we hoped it would do.”
Telecommunication Antennas Approved
As part of a telecommunications upgrade process that is affecting Tampa Bay, the state of Florida and the United States, city council members unanimously approved four easement permits for the installation of utility poles that will be equipped with new 5G technology.
“The large towers that we all know are reaching capacity,” said Tom Pressman, a representative from Southern Light, LLC, an infrastructure company. “In order to meet user demand, it can only be done by a 5G system. For Gulfport to move forward with other jurisdictions in the Tampa Bay area, this is a necessity.”
Henderson clarified that these “poles are very similar to light and electric poles and the antennas are mounted on the wooden poles.”
Councilmember Michael Fridovich asked Pressman if cell phone service during Hurricane Irma in September 2017 would have been better if this technology had been in place at that time.
“I’m not a technical expert,” said Pressman. But, “smaller poles and repetition of them would probably [provide] much better service than relying on large towers that are much more vulnerable.”
The four poles will be located at the intersections of 7th Avenue South and 58th Street South; 9th Avenue South and 58th Street South; 11th Avenue South and 57th Street South; and, 11th Avenue South and York Street South.
Parking Ticket Fine Increased
To update parking violation fines that were established 32 years ago, the city surveyed similar charges for all municipalities in Pinellas County.
“I knew we were low, but I didn’t realize we were the lowest,” said Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent. “I ask that we raise the fine because $15 is simply not a deterrent and we need a better tool to make people follow the rules.”
Though the locations of parking violations varies, “a considerable number issued are in the area by the waterfront especially during events” like Art Walk night and the weekly Tuesday market, said Vincent. “That’s when we get a lot of visitors and people are trying to get as close to the event as they possibly can. Some people are like, ‘You know, $15 is kinda cheap. I’ll park wherever I want.’”
Staff recommended a parking ticket fine increase to $30, which is above the county average of $26, because “many of the other cities also generate revenue from annual permits as well as parking meters,” according to the survey memo. In Gulfport, there are currently no parking meters and annual parking permits for residents are free.
Councilmembers unanimously approved the increase on first reading.
According to city records, Gulfport police issued 1,102 parking citations in 2017. It is expected that in 2018, the violation frequency will remain the same but the resulting revenue will double if the measure is approved at a future council meeting.
Two Sworn In After Election
City Clerk Leslie DeMuth officially swore into office Ward 1 incumbent Dan Liedtke and Ward 3 representative Paul Ray following the outcome of the municipal election that was held on Tuesday, March 13.
New Roles for Councilmembers
As part of the council’s rotating workflow, Brown was nominated by Liedtke to serve as vice mayor for the next year and Fridovich seconded the motion. Brown took on the new role by a unanimous vote.
By consensus, Brown was selected as the council’s representative to the monthly meetings of the Suncoast League of Cities board and Ray was chosen as the alternate. According to the board’s website, it “consists of 25 cities in three counties spanning from St. Leo in the north to Gulfport in the south” and the group’s primary mission is to represent member interests in the Florida legislature, the governor’s office and state agencies.
Toilet Rebate Program Expands
As part of his comment time near the end of the meeting, Liedtke asked if the city could expand its $100 high-efficiency-toilet rebate program to include commercial properties and make the date retroactive to March 1, 2018.
City Manager Jim O’Reilly said the program is funded by city dollars and that including landlords who own multi-family buildings would make a noticeable impact on water usage because “that’s where your conservation is going to happen.”
If approved, commercial businesses like restaurants would be included even though they have a smaller impact on usage, said O’Reilly.
Councilmembers unanimously approved both changes to the program.
Fun in the Sun Egg Hunt
The 13th-annual children’s event will be on Saturday, March 31 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Gulfport Recreation Center, 5730 Shore Boulevard.
The free festivities will include music, food, fire and police vehicle hands-on tours, a raffle and an Easter egg hunt.
“Every year it’s hard on my heart to work the parking lot with the Community Emergency Response Team members and have parents show up at 9:59 a.m. knowing they’re not going to find a parking space in time to get their little child to the egg roll,” said Brown. “Please go early.”