Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Budget picture worsens for New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — Faced with plunging property values and declining revenues, the city will likely have layoffs of some employees, City Manager John Schneiger said.

Last month, the city learned that property values dropped nearly 11 percent this year, drastically cutting the income from property taxes, Schneiger said. On top of that, the city faces a $695,000 drop from two kinds of utility taxes: a surcharge that all city residents pay on their electric bill, and a utility franchise fee that Progress Energy pays the city. With more properties sitting vacant, there are fewer electric bills in town to generate that tax revenue, Schneiger said.

The revelations pile on an already dire economic forecast of a deficit of around $12 million over the next five years, as predicted by an external auditor in April. Now, with the recent bad news, that projection has spiked to around $15 million, Schneiger said.

Schneiger had already ordered all city departments to shed 10 percent from their budgets for this coming fiscal year. Now there is no way to avoid layoffs, he said.

"It's very difficult. The news we received was not good," he said.

City officials are still determining how much needs to be slashed from payroll, when layoffs may take place, or in what departments, though "everything is on the table," Schneiger said.

"We will be meeting with all the departments to look at where we are at," Schneiger said.

The City Council on Tuesday evening took the first steps toward turning the tide on utilities revenue. The council adopted ordinances that laid the groundwork for holding public meetings to update street light and stormwater assessments for the next five years. Plans are to hold public meetings in July, Schneiger said.

Meanwhile, the prospect of layoffs cast a shadow on other parts of the meeting. The council approved a $5,000 sponsorship for the upcoming Main Street Blast event, as requested by Greater New Port Richey Main Street executive director Beth Fregger.

Council member Bob Langford voted against the funding, expressing discomfort with spending money on a special event when some employees are poised to lose their jobs. The council last year stated that special event funding would be drying up, Langford said.

"I thought we made it real clear," he said.

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