NEW PORT RICHEY — Judy DeBella Thomas ended her decade as executive director of Greater New Port Richey Main Street with a wavering voice and a harsh rebuke.
She said her fellow City Council members, Ginny Miller and Bob Langford, were forcing her to choose between her council seat and her job. She resigned so she could cast the vote saving the group's $30,000 in city funding, a grant Miller and Langford opposed.
After DeBella Thomas said Miller and Langford showed a "deep-seated antipathy" for the group, both wildly disagreed. They argued the group would survive, grant or no grant.
In a line that drew snide retorts from the crowd, Langford said, "I don't myself see why Main Street needs to die or even suffer."
That was two months ago. Yet Main Street, dealing with its own budget cuts and a vacant director's seat, still shows signs of struggling.
"We're doing our best, but it's not easy," said Main Street president Charlie Skelton. "When you lose your key personnel, it's a lot more traumatic than you think."
Debbie Pentivolpi, 31, has worked as Main Street's program administrator, serving in the lead position since a week after DeBella Thomas' resignation. Pentivolpi, who moved here from New Jersey about three years ago, helped organize the Black Maria Film and Video Festival in April at the Richey Suncoast Theatre, where Skelton works as managing director.
Pentivolpi said she is also organizing the Thomas Meighan Film Festival, named after the silent film star with New Port Richey roots, for shows next year.
Skelton suggested Pentivolpi take the part-time, $8-an-hour job while the group finds the money to pay for an executive director.
"The board and I are trying to revamp everything and find inefficiencies," Skelton said. "We're trying to be very cautious."
Though the council voted to continue its Main Street contract, the group must deal with a 25 percent cut from last year's $40,000 grant. Those funds, the contract states, will decrease each year by $5,000. The group also earns money through membership dues, sponsorships, and event food and drink sales.
"It's definitely an adjustment. We're surviving, sure, but it's just tougher," said group accountant David Dorsey. "It was a big blow to lose that support from the city."
Main Street Holidays, the downtown redevelopment group's first big event since DeBella Thomas' resignation, was the first two weekends in December. Pentivolpi said the last weekend, featuring about 50 arts-and-crafts vendors, was well attended in spite of the cold and rain.
Main Street is still planning for its next big event, the Cotee River Seafood Festival, which last year made national news when Jeff "Swampmaster" Quattrocchi was bitten on the arm during an alligator show.
DeBella Thomas has continued to work as a volunteer for the group, helping Pentivolpi learn the rigors of organizing, printing and publishing the group's big events.
"She's on speed dial," Pentivolpi said.
Skelton said she comes into the office every once in a while to check in.
"It's hard to give up 10 years of your life," Skelton said. "To all of a sudden just walk away."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.