Here’s how Gulfport’s spending its COVID relief funds
Gulfport City Council approved spending $1.1 million in COVID-19 relief funds at its Tuesday meeting, including a $410,000 retail voucher program that’s to provide residents $50 vouchers to spend at City retail stores. Council also approved $300,000 to fund sewer infrastructure, and $300,000 to compensate city workers for extra work during the pandemic. Council also set aside $71,252 in relief funds to help Gulfport small businesses hurt by COVID.
Gulfport will fund its COVID relief programs by drawing on $6.2 million in Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds awarded through the State of Florida in September.
Gulfport Rebound: Money for Businesses and Gulfportians
Council approved the Gulfport Rebound Program 4-1, with Vice Mayor April Thanos dissenting. The program will give Gulfport residents $50 vouchers good at participating Gulfport businesses impacted by COVID-19. Eligible Gulfport residents will receive a one-time $50 voucher, in the form of two $25 vouchers to use at any participating Gulfport business. To use the voucher, household residents must certify by signing the voucher that they either faced a COVID-19 related financial hardship, or spent a minimum of $50 on COVID-19 related supplies. Households with a utility lien on the property will not be eligible to receive a voucher; instead these properties will receive $50 credit on their utility bill. According to Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin, the city will mail each unit of a multi-unit residential property the voucher.
Gulfport residents can use the vouchers between Dec.10, 2021 and Jan. 10, 2022. City staff estimates the Gulfport Rebound Program will cost $410,000.
“We wanted to do something that was impactful, and honestly a little more personal and flexible,” Mayor Sam Henderson said. “It’s a $50 voucher that can only be spent as cash at participating Gulfport businesses.”
Gulfport Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin, who oversees the program, said all Gulfport households, regardless of whether they’re billed directly for city utilities, will receive the voucher.
Any independently operated brick-and-mortar business in Gulfport can participate and must apply by Nov. 24 at mygulfport.us/rebound/businessapplication.
“They must be a face-to-face business, must have a City of Gulfport tax license and have been in operation at any time between February 2020 and February 2021,” Hannafin said.
Vice Mayor Thanos, who voted against the voucher program, said the $410,000 would be better spent on additional infrastructure.
“Personally, I wouldn’t do this program at all,” Thanos said. “I think that $410,000 would be better spent on sewers and other things. Because I think that there’s a lot of people that certainly could spend $50 on masks or sanitizers, that they can well afford to do that,” but, she added, “if we spent this money on infrastructure, it would benefit everybody.”
Other council members disagreed.
“I think this a great idea, and I think it’s just a warm thing for the City of Gulfport to do, after what we’ve all been through in the last 14 months,” said Ward Three Councilman Paul Ray.
How Gulfport’s funding COVID relief
Gulfport’s COVID relief funds are part of the American Recovery Plan Act 2021. The ARPA relief money comes with a list of stipulations on how municipalities such as Gulfport can spend it. The city can use fund money to combat negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic, replace COVID-related public health expenses, or offset any money cities, counties or states lost during the pandemic. Gulfport could also invest the money in its infrastructure – think sewer or water repairs, or for broadband. Finally, Gulfport – and cities and counties – can use the money to cover all the overtime hours logged during the periods when pandemic required extra work from its employees.
Along those lines, council approved spending $300,000 on city sewers through a private water and sewer line replacement assistance program. The program will offer Gulfport residents half the money – up to $3,500 – needed to replace their water and sewer lines. Residents who wish information on whether they may be eligible can call Utilities Superintendent Clay Lott at 727-893-1085.
“I think it is a good idea,” Ward Four Councilman Michael Fridovich said. “I think we should be putting the majority of our COVID relief money into infrastructure. I think it’s important that we take care of our sewers and our streets.” Since joining the council, Fridovich has vocalized support for sewer replacement.
Gulfportians can also use the money to offset the costs of water and sewer work done by certified professionals on the home side of the meter. Residents can apply by Dec. 2 to get reimbursed for work done between Mar. 1 and Oct. 19.
Money for staff
Council also agreed to spend $300,000 of the recovery funds to repay city staff who worked extra hours during the pandemic but didn’t get full payment for their time worked. City staff originally proposed a wage adjustment – not a raise, but compensation for that extra time worked during the pandemic.