PORT RICHEY — The city's canal dredging project remains mired in legal questions that prevented council members from moving forward with it Wednesday night.
At a meeting of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency board, council member Steve O'Neill made a motion to pay about $30,000 for a consultant's study needed before the city can hold a referendum on the project. The study would outline the proposed tax assessments on about 140 property owners along the canals to pay for the dredging, estimated to cost between $4.3 million and $4.8 million.
But O'Neill's motion was met with silence and died for lack of a second.
Council members Terry Rowe and Nancy Britton said they could not support the study until the city attorney fully addressed the legal questions Rowe raised two weeks ago.
The city has spent CRA dollars, collected from virtually every city taxpayer, on the planning and engineering of the project. Rowe asked whether the city can legally turn around and assess only the waterfront property owners — the ones who would directly benefit — for the actual dredging work.
It also remains up in the air if those waterfront property owners can be required to repay the city for $1 million spent so far on planning.
City Attorney Joe Poblick said in his initial review he saw no legal roadbloacks with the city's use of CRA funds for the planning phase of the dredging, but said he is still investigating. The council did not set a new date to again address funding the study.
The City Council did, however, vote unanimously to spend $11,653 to continue the permitting process.