Mowing will remain a part of the city services. Another agency will handle non-emergency calls for the police department, likely the Pinellas Count Sheriff's Office who has presented City leaders with a 2-year proposal.
After a round of heated public debate and emotional speeches by all five council members, the City of Gulfport approved the budget Wednesday evening by a 3-2 vote.
The council also unanimously approved the first across-the-board raise in fees since 2005. Property taxes, water and garbage disposal rates, as well as utility fees and other city services will all cost a little more.
Gulfport residents will soon be paying 10 percent more for water and sewer and 12.5 percent additional for garbage and recycling services. Property taxes will be $4 per thousand dollars of home value, an increase of more than 15 percent. (The current millage rate is 3.4742 and will go up to 4.0)
Before voting on the amended budget, Council Member Sam Henderson continued to push for a compromise that would keep police dispatch services in Gulfport. Council Members Barbara Banno and Jennifer Salmon had already settled to save the park services.
"There is another option," Henderson said. "I appreciate very much, Councilmember Banno, that you moved a little tonight."
Henderson told the council and over 75 residents that Gulfport's decision to outsource was unnecessarily rash.
"We're not just starting this process of cutting," Henderson said. "We've been doing this for five years now. There's different rates of cuts, and this one to me… is a premature decision that we don't have to do yet."
Henderson insisted the way to save the dispatch jobs is to raise water rates 12 percent, 10 percent on city utilities and 12.5 percent for garbage and recycling. He agreed to maintain the already agreed-upon property tax rate. His plan would have kept the jobs and put $13,000 into the Gulfport City General Fund Reserves.
"I moved a little tonight, you moved a little tonight," Henderson said. "I don't think we're there yet."
"I don't think our city government is simply a business. There is also a community aspect to it."
Banno and Salmon decided that outsourcing the mowing services would not balance out in the end, and jobs would ultimately be lost.
Banno called for the amendment keeping park services in the budget, seconded by Salmon. The new plan will add $73,461 to the reserve fund in fiscal 2012, down from the original $121,338.
"This is a pretty trying night," Banno said. "It hasn't gotten easier as the month has gone on. It has gotten harder and harder."
"This is not an easy decision," Salmon said. "All of us have looked at this intellectually and also emotionally. I don't want to pretend to say I understand all your emotions. Everybody has their feelings about it, and it's all relevant."
Salmon said that by keeping the park services in Gulfport and outsourcing police dispatch, it would be "the best possible situation."
As for the dispatch jobs, any written agreement with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office would maintain that the four police dispatchers be hired by the county. The fate of the service technician's job was still undecided, but Salmon was confident that would also go to the PCSO.
As a CPA, Vice Mayor David Hastings saw outsourcing as a clear choice. He was the council member who originally proposed the plan to the city.
Hastings explained to the audience why he was resolved to outsource the police dispatch. He understood that it may not be a popular decision, but it was something that was necessary for Gulfport's economic survival.
"I do my homework in my way," Hastings said. "My profession dictates that I focus on numbers. That’s what I do best. "
"The first thought in my mind was to balance the budget. Here was a means to do it."
In the end, the council remained split on the budget. Mayor Mike Yakes and Henderson both stood firm by voting no.
Before casting his vote, Yakes said that Gulfport's success was by "being thorough." It was through well-considered decisions like the 2012 budget debate that makes Gulfport special.
"Our city will become 101 years-old in October," Yakes said. "We are a full-service community. We have a unique city by choice."
"When you look at what we have, it's by choice and not by chance," Yakes said. "We did not become 101 years-old by being reckless… and without blood, sweat and tears."