If you’ve ever known anyone who will promise you the world but cannot seem to deliver, you may feel as I do that people who do stand behind their word are golden. How frustrating, then, it must be to sit on an elected board, because you must count on a lot of other people to help you keep your word.
I am talking primarily about Gulfport, its budget, and, ultimately, whether or not the city should outsource its dispatch. I believe that Gulfport should find the money to keep dispatch, but it’s not just about money. The issue goes deeper than that; it goes back to whether city council can has the support of staff help the council do what it promises.
Anyone who sat through budget workshops heard some pretty solid and creative ideas about keeping Gulfport from going broke. Jennifer Salmon, Barbara Banno and Sam Henderson all showed up at the table with ways to bring in more money without adding to the resident’s financial burden. If you couldn’t attend the daytime budget sessions or grew frustrated by the Teddy Ruxpin technology that passes for “web streaming” (don’t get me started; that’s a whole other column) on the city’s web site, allow to me to share some of the ideas I heard:
Councilwoman Salmon questioned why groups like the Chamber and Merchants don’t pay the costs the city incurs on their behalf during special events. Currently the city spends over $100,000 on non-city events for which it does not get reimbursed. The councilwoman’s questions and implied suggestions place the financial burden of these special events on business organizations rather than the taxpayer. I see no sign of this happening.
Councilman Henderson talked about parking meters by the beach and charging for shelter pavilion rentals. Since this capitalizes on an asset Gulfport’s largely ignored in the past, its waterfront, in all likelihood this won’t happen either. As I’ve mentioned, Gulfport doesn’t seem to know it has a waterfront.
Thinking along the same lines, I’d like to note, resident Al Davis handed out a memo to council suggesting the city’s kayak launch install an “honor box” for ramp fees (Mr. Davis is undergoing medical treatment and had difficulty speaking. Despite this, the mayor didn’t direct anyone to read Mr. Davis’ prepared memo at the meeting. If you want to see what Mr. Davis would have said had he been medically able, click here).
Councilwoman Banno seems to share councilman Henderson’s wacky notion that the city should make money off being on the water. She suggested improvements to the marina, including increasing dry storage. Has it shown up in any further budget discussions? I’ll let you guess.
Now, of course, vice mayor David Hastings pointed out that instead of raising the water and sewer rates by 10%, the city could raise it by 20% and fund dispatch. Perhaps others would have met this suggestion more warmly had someone explained to those of us who aren’t fluent in bureaucrat that this wasn’t an increase on the entire bill and would cost the average home about $4.60.
Maybe I’m being too hard on city staff. After all, any one of the councilmembers can speak up and ask the city manager to include these suggestions in the final budget. So far no one has.
So, you see, it isn’t about whether the sheriff’s dispatchers will offer the same level of service; it’s about whether or not the council will keep its word to the residents. During elections they promised to keep Gulfport’s character while bringing new direction to the city. To many residents, Gulfport’s character hinges on its sense of community, and trading in-house services for countywide ones over which the city has no control threatens that community.
It shouldn’t come to that, though, and this column isn’t supposed to be about why it’s ridiculously short-sighted to eliminate dispatch. It’s about not turning away money that the city could, relatively easily, make so it never has to make tough choices like this one. Every idea I heard, from parking meters to making the chamber pay for the police who staff their events, is worth exploring before the city gives up control over when an officer comes to your home to help you. That’s what Councilman Henderson was saying when he asked for another year: let’s give these ideas a shot and see if Gulfport’s in a better place next year.
As for me, I bet council’s ideas would work, but we will never know because I see no evidence that the council will get to implement those ideas. If that’s OK with council, then fine, and I’ll let them deal with their own conscience. I just hope everyone up there realizes that voters have long memories and broken promises stay broken.