GULFPORT — Faced with declining revenues and increased costs, the City Council has gone an extra step this year to involve residents early and often in the city's budgeting process.
Now a special ad hoc committee of residents charged with reviewing every aspect of city operations wants the community to have even more input.
Among the committee's ideas are a series of forums to identify priorities for existing or new city services, creating both regular mail and e-mail suggestion boxes where people can submit ideas, using volunteers for door-to-door resident surveys, and closely involving city staff, as well, in generating cost-saving options.
"The goal of this initiative would be to generate many novel ideas for reducing expenditures or increasing revenues in order to maintain city services," said Ad Hoc Budget Committee member Jennifer Salmon in a recent memo to Dan Carpenter, the city's administrative services director.
"The key is to identify new ways of doing business," Salmon added.
The council has set a goal of keeping property tax rates — currently at 3.4742 mills — unchanged while still maintaining service levels.
However, a $3 million budget shortfall this year has forced the city to freeze wages, leave positions unfilled, cut other spending, and raise water and sewer rates.
Property tax revenues dropped 8.29 percent in 2008 and are expected to fall another 9.24 percent this year and yet another 12 percent in 2010.
That translates to another $804,000 decrease in revenues.
"Our citizens are our greatest resource and we need their help in solving this puzzle," said Mayor Michael Yakes.