GULFPORT — The proposed city budget for fiscal year 2013-14 has a little bit of something for everyone, including some good news and some bad.
First, the good news: According to the budget submitted to the City Council for approval, property owners should see no increase in their local property tax rate for the coming year. Thanks to a small increase in property values, the city's proposed tax rate for 2013-14 will remain the same as last year — about $4.04 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value.
The bad news? Residents will see their water and sewer rates increase by 12 percent, a proposal set to go into effect this month. According to City Manager Jim O'Reilly, the rise in rates — estimated at $3.50 per month — represents an increase in the cost of doing business with the city of St. Petersburg, the source of the Gulfport's potable water and its sanitary sewer treatment.
"It's a way for Gulfport to recoup the costs of remaining in compliance with the existing purchasing agreement we have with St. Petersburg," O'Reilly explained. The current contract expires in fiscal year 2017-18.
Beyond the increase in utility rates, all other city fees are expected to remain the same.
What residents may see, however, are a few more people around City Hall as the proposed budget calls for filling five full-time and two part-time positions, only a few of which are new. Gulfport's 2013-14 budget calls for re-establishing two city services positions, one in sanitation and another in streets, and two Building Department employees, an inspector and a permit technician. The building department has seen an increase in requests for fees and permits, according to O'Reilly.
The budget also reinstates a part-time receptionist position in City Hall, adds a part-time minibus position, and proposes the hiring of a police officer, contingent on the City Council's approval of an expanded 49th Street program.
"For the first time in my four years on the council, we're actually hiring people instead of laying them off," Mayor Sam Henderson said. "In the past, the budget process has been a bit dismal. No one likes to lay people off. But this year, we're looking at a good budget that focuses more on what the city can do, instead of what it cannot do."
Highlights of Gulfport's proposed $17.5 million budget include an extension to the Pinellas Trail, sections of which will pass through Clymer Park and extend the beach loop to the Municipal Marina. The Clymer Park extension will also include a public art installation, currently in the design stages, and the addition of Florida-friendly landscaping.
Diane Craig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.