With the passage of the American Recovery Act, the City of Gulfport is set to receive $5,186,383 in federal relief money, and a good portion of the June 1 meeting was dedicated to discussing how the city should best spend the incoming funds.
There are restrictions on what the funds can be used for. Broadly speaking, the money can go towards: public health and COVID-mitigation efforts, workers and businesses economically impacted by the pandemic, replacing government revenue lost due to the pandemic, premium pay to essential workers, and investments in infrastructure (specifically improving access to clean water and internet).
All of the council expressed interest in using some of the funds to repair and improve the city’s sewage pipes, specifically investing in lateral lines, with each councilmember then giving their own priorities for how to use the other funds.
April Thanos suggested using the money to fund a citywide climate change vulnerability study, additional installations of solar panels on city buildings, increased funding for the recreation center’s childcare program as parents return to work, and a temp worker to help residents access CARES Act money they may be entitled to.
Christine Brown asked if it was possible to use the funds to pay back the city’s existing loans related to past sewer improvements, and City Finance Director Cheryl Hannafin clarified that loan repayment was explicitly forbidden.
Paul Ray suggested using funds to replace water meters throughout the city, creating a fund to help local businesses with landscaping, and improving the wage of city workers above the required minimum wage increases, to make sure the city can stay competitive in its hiring as the state minimum wage grows closer to $15 an hour each year.
Sam Henderson suggested using the funds to repair roads and sidewalks, coastal parks, setting up broadband hotspots to provide free wireless internet to the public, and possibly a bonus to all city workers to thank them for continuing to work through the pandemic.
“A lot of people had to do a lot of thinking on their feet and rapid adjustment, and working under some extremely difficult conditions that this country hasn’t seen in over 100 years,” Henderson said.
In his closing comments, Paul Ray announced that he will host an event for public input on the issue on Wednesday, June 9 at Pavilion #6 along Shore Blvd, near the Gulfport Rec Center.
“Anybody who wants to show up with their suggestions, please do,” he said.
To read more about other decisions made at the June 1 Gulfport City Council meeting, check out this article.