NEW PORT RICHEY — Residents miffed at the city's failure to approve funding for Greater New Port Richey Main Street filled City Hall on Tuesday night, pleading with the council to restore Main Street's contract and help ensure its survival.
The council deadlocked last week over whether Main Street, a not-for-profit group that organizes downtown events like the Cotee River Seafood Festival and Main Street Blast and an art gallery on Grand Boulevard, should continue to receive a city grant. The impasse cut the group's $30,000 city grant.
Tuesday's meeting marked the first public outlet for residents since the council's Sept. 14 stalemate; it also meant the last chance residents had to fight the cut before the grant ceases Oct. 1.
And they moved in force. About 100 residents stood in support of Main Street at the beginning of the public comment portion of the meeting. By 8 p.m., 15 residents and volunteers had urged the city to change its mind.
"Please don't do something we'll all regret in the future," said Jeannine Humphrey, a 10-year volunteer with Main Street. "When the economy improves, the city will need us more than ever."
Only one resident, the owner of a Main Street antique mall, opposed the group and criticized what he felt was an unfair locating of events elsewhere in the city.
The council did not take action on the matter Tuesday evening, but Mayor Scott McPherson said the council could hold a special meeting as early as Monday to address the issue.
McPherson and Vice Mayor Rob Marlowe said they believed the council had agreed on a 25 percent cut to the grant, nudging the city funds to the group down to $30,000 next year. The contract stipulated that further cuts would be made each year to wean the group from the public budget.
But council members Ginny Miller and Bob Langford, arguing that funding the group would be an unfair allotment in a tight budget that forced the city to lay off seven workers, voted last week not to continue the grant.
The council's fifth member, Judy DeBella Thomas, had to abstain from the vote because she is Main Street's executive director.
The 2-2 tie deadlocked the proposed contract renewal and severed the city grant beginning Oct. 1. The $30,000 that would have gone to the group remains unmarked in the budget.
"I beg you," resident Amy-Joy Weigel said to council members Tuesday night. "Please do not take this away from us. It's not just the music. It's the beauty. … This is what makes the city wonderful."
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.