“This is the first time in the five years that I’ve been doing this as city manager that I can stand before you and give a positive number,” City Manager Jim O’Reilly said about revenues from property taxes. The increase, .77%, would mean an extra $19,000 for Gulfport.
City Manager O’Reilly suggested maintaining the same tax rate, 4.039.
“It’s hard for a city manager, when you have considerable monies in reserves, to recommend an increase,” he said. The budget he presented council Tuesday night included $11.2 million in expense. The city’s revenue falls $390,000 short of this amount.
The city manager also suggested a 2% raise for non-public safety employees (police and fire unions have separate contracts and unions that secure raises for those employees), which would cost $175,000.
The city could increase PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) from enterprise funds like the marina and water department, raise the city taxes by 1 mil (a mil is the amount of tax per thousand dollars of property value) for an extra $625,000, use the reserves, reduce benefits for employees, or look at cutting staff or outsourcing services.
Ward Three Councilwoman Jennifer Salmon suggested raising taxes to offset the shortfall. While last budget year, Councilwoman Salmon (unsuccessfully) championed higher raises for staff, Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke had other ideas this year.
“Is it possible to take some people and look at giving them less than full time?” Vice Mayor Liedtke asked. This would cut health insurance benefits for those employees.
“It would be identified as a tax increase,” City Manager O’Reilly said, explaining that since property values increased, keeping the millage rate unchanged would result in an increase in taxes for most Gulfport property owners.
Ward Two Councilwoman Christine Brown said she leaned towards decreasing taxes.
Ward Four Councilman Michael Fridovich said he wanted the city to spend money on areas of the city that could make money, such as at the Casino. He also suggested a city-owned, secure RV/boat storage lot. In response to hearing that “people come to Gulfport because it’s free” he said that the city should charge charging a nonresident beach parking fee.
“My argument is, we should, as residents, all get stickers... for the beach,” he said, but said the city should charge a “minimum of ten dollars” for a beach parking permit.
The city manager explained that if the city wanted beach renourishment from the county, it could only charge for parking meters, not higher-priced passes.
Mayor Sam Henderson agreed that the city should leave the millage rate unchanged. He did say he wanted to see TIF money spent on marketing the city rather than funding special events.
“I’d like to see us reallocating how spend some of the money from that TIF fund,” Mayor Henderson said “I’d like to see us...reallocate some of that money from subsidizing some of the events themselves but [spent instead on] how we market the city.”
Some of the property taxes collected in the Waterfront District goes into a special fund, called a Tax Increment Financing fund (TIF), and that money can only be spent in the Waterfront District unless the city removes the designation.
He also suggested the city spend more money on 49th Street improvements.