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Budget crunch looms over New Port Richey election

NEW PORT RICHEY — Budget, budget, budget.

This year's city election on Tuesday carries many of the same issues as those before it — Main Street Landing, downtown redevelopment, the departure of Community Hospital — but everything comes in the context of a budget crunch that already has the council talking about raising the property tax rate. Shrinking property values alone could result in a nearly $966,000 shortfall, according to estimate by the city's finance department.

Three candidates — incumbents Marilynn deChant and Judy Debella Thomas and former council member Ginny Miller — are running for two seats.

The top two vote getters will win three-year terms.

Here's a little more about the trio:

Marilynn deChant

DeChant, a public relations consultant, is wrapping up her second two-year term on the council. Because of the city's term limits, this will be deChant's final consecutive run.

"How about consistency, continuity?" she said. "I have a steady hand."

DeChant said it was still too early to say where the budget needed to be cut, though she said the yard debris pickup would likely be on the table. She has expressed willingness to raise the tax rate to avoid service cuts.

Any regrets over the last four years? The city's $1.05 million purchase of the First Church of Christ Scientist in 2006. The building sits empty, and the parking lot — intended to be for boat trailer parking — is not heavily used.

"I regret that one 100 percent," she said.

There is one thing she has zero regrets about: Her 2006 vote against additional financing on the now-stalled Main Street Landing project. "I think the city has done everything in its power to bend over backwards," she said.

Judy DeBella Thomas

Thomas, the executive director of Greater New Port Richey Main Street, is wrapping up her first term, a one-year stint.

"I think I bring a vitality and newness to the position," she said. "I think I'm still looking at things with a fresh perspective."

She said the city may need to consider cutting hours at the library and recreation complex to save money. She said she is opposed to raising the tax rate.

Thomas said she is optimistic that Main Street Landing would be finished, though she wasn't sure if developer Ken McGurn would be the one to do it. She has positioned herself on the issue somewhere between deChant and Miller, who voted in favor of the financing setup on Main Street Landing.

Thomas said she'd made an honest mistake last year when she voted on a special events alcohol permit that her Main Street program requested. She said she thought her position gave her a good perspective on the council.

Ginny Miller

Miller, a math teacher at Gulf High School, served on the council for nine years, her most recent term ending last April. She made an unsuccessful bid for County Commission in November.

Miller said the city has not focused enough on neighborhood redevelopment and the 2011 departure by Community Hospital, the city's largest taxpayer, which she called a "ticking time bomb."

She said the council, which has recently threatened to sue the Main Street Landing developers, had gone too far. "I don't think we should have been in an adversarial relationship with them," she said.

Miller said at a recent candidate forum that if any jobs needed to be cut, she would want to look first at employees making over $50,000. She also supports raising the tax rate to avoid any service cuts.

"People never complain to me about the millage going up," she said. "They complain to me about bad service."

Miller said her regret while on council was hiring former City Manager Scott Miller (no relation), who she said lacked good management skills.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

Fast facts

New Port Richey election

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatics Complex, 6630 Van Buren St.

Budget crunch looms over New Port Richey election 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 1:47pm]
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