GULFPORT — By the narrowest of margins, City Council passed an unpopular budget-balancing ordinance that turns police dispatching over to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
After an hour of listening to save-the-dispatchers pleas from residents, three council members — Barbara Banno, David Hastings and Jennifer Salmon — said they had to do what the city needs, if not necessarily wants, and voted to pass the budget.
There was, however, a little sugar to help the medicine go down. Eliminating four parks department workers, which would save the city $47,877 a year by outsourcing mowing services, was scratched from the original proposal.
Mayor Mike Yakes and Sam Henderson voted no after their alternative — keeping the five dispatchers and raising water rates 12 percent instead of 10 — garnered no support.
Each council member took a turn justifying his or her decision.
"The dispatchers don't define Gulfport; community defines Gulfport," Banno said.
"I focus on numbers; that's what I do best," Hastings, a certified public accountant, said. "I stand by my decision, my research. I'm not changing my vote."
"Putting it off or kicking it down the road another year isn't going to help us," Salmon said.
The yes votes were cast by the council's newest members — all elected in the past two years — who implored residents to trust that they were doing what they were elected to do: make hard decisions in the best interest in the city.
But Yakes, a lifelong resident of Gulfport who has been on City Council 25 years, the last 15 as mayor, and Henderson, who has a reputation of championing the little guy, said they were elected to do what the people tell them they should do.
And tell them they did. In droves, Henderson said.
"It's overwhelming how many people have stopped me and have said, 'Don't do it.' "
Yakes said that he favors government by the people, for the people.
"What we have in Gulfport is by choice and not chance. We did not become 101 years old by being reckless and without a lot of blood, sweat and tears."
In other business, council members voted unanimously to raise the millage rate from 3.74 to 4 mills and raise water rates 10 percent.