At the Tuesday, August 4 Gulfport Council meeting, councilmembers spent the bulk of their time discussing future development projects for the city and a review of the city’s proposed 2020-2021 fiscal year budget.
Budget priorities include focus on public safety, utilities infrastructure, technology enhancements to city service delivery model, city infrastructure improvements and utility rates (water/sewer/storm water/sanitation).
The proposed general fund recommended budget expenses totaling $14,810,482, which is a $913,482 increase from the 2019-2020 budget of $13,897,000.
Budget council comments were led by Ward 2 Councilmember Christine Brown and focused on future projects. Brown believes it’s time to plan for Gulfport’s future.
“Projects need to be timeless,” said Brown.
Her suggestions included building a “Public Safety Complex” in the 49th Street corridor. This would be a new center for the police department, fire department and an up-to-date, standalone professional emergency operations center, separate from city hall facilities.
“I think it’s a bold move to show our public safety professionals that we believe in them,” she said. “The police station is in dire need of upgrading. And, the fire department was built when my husband was a child.”
Brown suggested several other projects: a marina master plan to include the linear park and living shoreline; a previously mentioned splash pad and turning the tennis courts into pickleball courts.
“I agree with Christine Brown on planning for the future,” said Ward 3 Councilmember Paul Ray. “I’d be interested in finding out more about moving the fire department and the police department up to 49th Street. And Christine knows I think the splash pad is a great idea.”
Ray also alluded to the idea of an outdoor entertainment area near the recreation center.
Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich supported Brown’s suggestions, except the splash pad. He also suggested possibly acquiring the Wells Fargo property and building at 2001 49th St. S.
“I’d like to keep solar in budget,” Ward 4 Councilmember April Thanos added. “It’s one of those that you spend money on, you end up saving money.”
Along with harnessing the power of the sun, Thanos looked to improve the ground beneath our feet. Thanos suggested that the city continue to promote Gulfport’s sewer lateral line rebate program that began in 2018. The program helps homeowners with up to 50 percent of their complete replacement costs, to a maximum of $3,500.
“Lateral leakage accounts for almost half the stormwater/rainwater that gets into our sewer system. We then pay St. Pete to process that,” explained Thanos.
Thanos also revisited adding a police K-9 unit, saying she doesn’t believe this is the best time for the city to invest in that project, though Mayor Sam Henderson and Brown disagreed.
“Many of my big projects are already completed or underway,” said Henderson. “This is a pull-back year for me, fiscally. Many uncertain days ahead.”
The mayor favored a more conservative approach, given the current climate.
“I did not submit a bunch of new budget items this year, on purpose. Too much economic and pandemic uncertainty to spend large amounts unnecessarily.”
The mayor pushed to maintain the current millage rate while continuing scheduled infrastructure improvements, including sewer rehab, road paving, sidewalk repair/replacement and annual contributions to the solar fund.
Henderson is also campaigning to keep all current departments and related employees in-house, and for possible employee raises.
“Though these aren’t line items, this mission was met in the proposed budget for 2020 and I feel it reflects these priorities,” he said.
City council meetings will continue to be held virtually until the end of September, pending updates from Governor DeSantis. Anyone who’d like to comment on the budget before council votes can attend virtual public hearings on Thursday, September 3 and Tuesday, September 15, at 6 p.m. Submit public comments to City Clerk Lesley Demuth at email@example.com.