GULFPORT — Looking back on 2010, city officials say they are pleased with their approach to spending and with avoiding layoffs.
"What we're most proud of, and it takes a tremendous amount of cooperation in our city, is that with all the financial challenges we have, we remain debt free," says Mayor Michael Yakes.
"We did not layoff any of our employees and we actually reduced our operating budget by approximately 10 percent."
City Manager Jim O'Reilly said the city has a reserve of about $4,448,704 of the general fund budget.
"We need to function as if we're a big city. We don't have the population, but we have all the services: police, fire, EMS, water, sewer, public works, a recreation center, a senior center, a library. What we don't have is the ability to close down one because we only have one," said Yakes.
A major focus for next year will be economic redevelopment in the 49th Street corridor in cooperation with the South 49th Street Business Association.
"The long-term plan is to see an improved area with commerce and industry to support the existing businesses and create an area of improved employment opportunities," said O'Reilly.
"Short-term is to provide a basket of tools for property owners to improve their property values."
Jeri Reed, president of the South 49th Street Business Association, says the area is unique and diverse. She admits that 49th Street, at times, has a reputation of being a rough area, but she says "it's really not that bad."
"So 49," as Reed calls the association, has been in existence for a little more than two years now.
Gulfport officials are emphasizing going green as they develop incentives for people to improve their properties and receive green certification. They have also expanded their recycling program to make it easier and inclusive.
Yakes said he is pleased with the results in a shared partnership with St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, and the state of Florida on the enhancements to the Clam Bayou Nature Park.
According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), one of the restoration sites for the storm water treatment project is complete and another stormwater pond is approximately 50 percent complete.
Resident Pat Dunham is happy with both the progress of Gulfport, as well as the supportive family-like feeling it has retained, as her 35 years there would imply.
"We have what upscale communities have without the price tag," she said, adding that even the more outspoken residents are acknowledged and respected by the City Council.
"We're able to speak to our council members and if we have a concern, they listen and act on things. These people are not on pedestals. They recognize us; they're our neighbors. Our mayor, he's Mike. If you go down to the marina some mornings, you just might find him there, having coffee with the guys."
"The residents of Gulfport are relatively vocal," said Yakes. "There's always going to be concerns that people have, but I would say we're at about 85 percent confidence and understanding in the city.