The possibility of a tax hike is looking more likely for Gulfport homeowners. On Monday night, the city council voted four-to-three to publish a notice to raise property taxes by 18 percent. Officials say the notice had to run in the newspaper by Wednesday or they wouldn't be able to ask for the tax hike.
The owner of a home valued at $100,000 would go from paying $296 a year in city taxes to about $350. The increase will generate about $3.1 million dollars. City officials say the increase would put Gulfport in the middle compared to other coast cities' taxes because the city lowered its millage after the Harrison County re-appraisal in 2000.
One of the opponents to the motion was Councilman Billy Hewes. He says he refuses to vote in favor of any tax hikes until residents get a chance to vote on his proposal to bring commercial development to Jones Park, which he says could bail the city out.
Ward five councilmen Kim Savant wasn't convinced.
"If they were turning dirt on it today it would be no less than three or four years before we realized any of benefits of those additional tax dollars," said Savant. "I don't think we have the luxury of saying we'll put off a tax increase based on something that might be happening."
Gulfport Mayor Ken Combs also presented the city council what he thought the 2003 budget should look like. The mayor's budget proposal includes a three-percent pay raise for city employees. To help pay for the raises, Combs suggested that the city stop giving so much money to charitable organizations.
Last year Gulfport gave $114,500 to charity. This year the mayor wants to cut that nearly in half to $57,500. Some organizations like the American Red Cross, Boys Scouts of America, and the Gulfport Chamber would not get donations next year. Combs says the city cannot afford to give a lot of money away to charity when Gulfport is in a budget crisis.
"There are some other organizations that have been getting money from the city that have budgets of four or five million dollars, and they have salaries that would make even a Gulfport city attorney blush," said Combs.
In Combs' proposal most charities come up empty handed. He did help out some organizations he thought help the community as a whole like the Gulf Coast Women's Center or ones that attract a lot of visitors like the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo and Crusin' the Coast.
The mayor says the rodeo and Crusin the Coast generate sales taxes, but some council members say they're a drain on the budget.
Councilmen Jimmie Jenkins said "If we're gonna cut folks, then I think the most influential group on here would be Crusin' the Coast. I know they bring money to the city of Gulfport, but look at the people who operate, that is the people that participate in it. Those people got money. So if we're gonna trim the fat. Let's trim the fat off the biggest hog."
In the end, the council turned down the mayor's idea and decided to look at each charity's request individually. Ward 6 councilmen Chuck Teston said the only amount he'd vote to give to charity is zero.
"I think we're in bad financial straits, and I just hate to use the taxpayers' money to fund these charitable organizations," said Teston. "I think it's time for them to stand on their own two feet and get the job done."
Gulfport residents will get a chance to voice their thoughts on the proposed budget and the tax increase. The public hearing is scheduled for Thursday night, September 5th at 5:30.