GULFPORT — Where were they?
In the first of two public hearings on the city's proposed budget for 2013-14, Gulfport residents were a no-show. The workshop (another is scheduled for Sept. 18) is an annual opportunity for residents and council members to offer their opinions and ideas on how the city will spend its money.
In a noticeable departure from previous years when public input and council discussions often turned contentious, council unanimously approved the first reading of the budget in an amicable meeting of just under seven minutes.
City Manager Jim O'Reilly asked the council to approve the operating budget of $11,426,095 noting that council had discussed elements of the budget dating back to March 21.
"This is a great budget," said Ward 3 representative Jennifer Salmon. "We're going to be improving the marina, moving ahead with all sorts of exciting things in the library, even updating lights in the Hickman Theatre. It's great that we can do this, and not raise the tax rate."
Christine Brown (Ward 2) praised O'Reilly and his staff for what, to many, was a painless process.
"When I had questions or needed more information, the city manager was most generous with his time. It's been great," she said.
Ward 4 council member Michael Fridovich complimented the council on the ease with which the budget passed.
"Even though we have our differences, we all respect each other," he said.
Still, he's curious why there was no public comment at Wednesday's meeting.
"I wish there was more conversation, either through emails or at council meetings, about the budget," he said. "After all, it's the community's tax dollars."
Highlights of next year's budget include an $880,000 loan to the Marina Fund for capital improvements, $115,000 in appropriations to the Waterfront Redevelopment Fund, and $65,769 to the 49th Street Corridor Fund.
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The second reading of the proposed operating budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 18. Residents will once again have an opportunity to address the council. The budget can be viewed at mygulfport.us.
Diane Craig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.