DADE CITY — More than two decades ago, then-state Sen. Jack Latvala tried unsuccessfully to dissolve the city of Port Richey.
A Pasco County commissioner wonders if it’s time to try again, now that the mayor and deputy mayor have both been charged with crimes.
Commissioner Jack Mariano broached the idea during Tuesday’s Pasco commission meeting.
“Looking at the issues that are out there and what’s going on,’’ said Mariano as he named Port Richey’s assets, including a waterfront park and city hall building, “I don’t think it would be a negative.’’
He didn’t get much support from the rest of the dais.
“I think we need to stay out of it until it plays out,’’ said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
Mariano raised the topic after reading an email from Port Richey Council Member Jennie Sorrell to resident Michael Grimes, who said he was embarrassed to live in Port Richey after a three-person council failed to fill an open seat on the council last week.
Mariano drew attention to Grimes’ statement that Port Richey is without a building official, code enforcement officer or utilities director. Mariano asked County Administrator Dan Biles and County Attorney Jeffery Steinsnyder if the county could lend a hand to provide those services.
Later, City Manager Vince Lupo said Port Richey contracts with a private company to serve as its certified building official. The code enforcement officer recently left for a higher-paying job with the city of New Port Richey, and his predecessor is filling in. The director of utilities and public works also resigned recently, and the second-in-command of each department is running operations until a new director is hired.
"It's a normal event in any city, particularly when employees receive no pay raises'' this fiscal year, said Lupo.
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Mariano said in an interview that he had just begun researching whether the city should dissolve. The county, he said, could employ the same people. And city residents, if they are interested, could pay for a higher level of service through a municipal tax district or similar mechanism.
“I’m trying to understand the process,’’ said Mariano. “I’m still learning.’’
Mariano’s daughter, state Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, tweeted last month, “It is time to dissolve the city of Port Richey.’’
Her comment came after the March 14 arrest of Acting Mayor Terrence Rowe, who was charged with conspiring with the jailed former mayor, Dale Massad, to intimidate a witness. Massad faces charges of attempted murder of a police officer and practicing medicine without a license. Massad resigned, and Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Rowe, leaving Port Richey with a three-member City Council.
In April 1997, city voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to dissolve the city and merge with New Port Richey. The city ballot question came after Latvala and then-Rep. Debra Prewitt introduced legislation in Tallahassee requiring the referendum question be put before voters in both cities.
Rather than wait, Port Richey held its own election and spent $42,000 on legal fees and advertising to promote the benefits of remaining an independent municipality.
"I'm totally, totally against dissolving the city,'' said Sorrell. "We're still functioning as a city, and we're taking care of problems as they come up. I don't know why they (Pasco County) would even broach the issue.''