The city of Gulfport is facing a financial crisis, including a budget shortfall of $4.5 million. The council met Monday to decide where hikes will happen, and how much they will be. At the end of the meeting, the council voted to have people who use the city's recreational services reach deeper into their pockets.
Increases range from $5 to $150, depending on the event and service. The increase will generate about $100,000 a year in extra revenue.
Council members considered increases on everything from youth sports fees, rental charges on community centers and pavilions and fees at the city owned Evergreen Cemetery. The figures are based on a study showing Gulfport charges much less than 15 other Mississippi cities.
"We felt it was justified, since we were lower that we could raise these fees and still give people a reasonable price," Leisure Services Director George DeCoux said.
Ward Six Council member Chuck Teston agreed.
"You go on the Internet and you put in cities of 71,000 or more and compare the service cost within those cities to Gulfport, and we're dirt cheap," Teston said.
He says charging people more for leisure services is the first step in making the department self-supporting, but other council members say that's not the idea.
"We're not going to break even, but at least we'll be somewhere in the ballpark, because a lot of our facilities need some improvement, and this will bring in some extra money to improve our parks and enhance them," Ward One Council member Jimmy Jenkins said.
But that may not happen, because all the extra money except the increased cemetery fees goes into the city's general fund.
Ella Holmes Hines was the only one to vote against the higher costs. Hines says people shouldn't have to pay to use the city's smaller centers, and she's concerned that it will be harder for non-profit organizations to raise money if they have to pay more.
"I would like to see the city of Gulfport in some type of in-kind services, which of course we do allow them to use it for business meetings and other civic groups can use the facilities, but fundraising I think should be on some type of a percentage basis of what they collect," she said.
The fee increase takes affect June 1. The youth sports increase will go into effect for the pee-wee football and flag football program in August.