PORT RICHEY — City residents will soon face a "triple whammy" of tax increases. Some workers' salaries are still paid with money marked for Port Richey's redevelopment efforts. And the state, at last audit, said the city was facing a financial emergency.
But while other cities have resorted to cutting staff, Port Richey plans to add about 10 new positions into the budget at a cost of about $320,000 in salary, retirement and overtime pay.
The jobs include an administrative analyst in the city manager's office, an accountant in the finance department, an information technology employee and crewmen for roads and utility collection. Half of the new employees will work under the police chief, including three officers, one information technician and a marine officer patrolling the canals on a police skiff.
The new jobs are detailed in salary worksheets released to the Times through a public records request. If divided equally across the city's 3,400 residents, the new positions would cost about $94 per person.
With the new hires, the city will have employed 59 workers in all departments, seven of whom work part-time. Finance Manager Pam Zeigler said some of the full-time jobs could be scaled back to part-time positions as budget talks continue.
Questions about staffing decisions were redirected to City Manager Ellen Posivach, who did not return five messages left at her office since last week. She spent Thursday at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Fla., attending the Florida League of Cities financial board meeting, and her assistant said she would be "swamped" on Monday and Tuesday. Posivach did not work at City Hall on Wednesday.
Mayor Richard Rober said the new positions were created to meet residents' demand for services. The City Council, he said, would have liked to add even more new positions.
"If we're asking staff to do things, we have to give them the tools and the budget and the resources to do it," Rober said. "We've come so low in staffing it's hard to get things done effectively."
Those jobs will be funded in part by the city's community redevelopment fund, an account fueled by property taxes and designated for decreasing blight. For years, officials have tapped into the fund to balance the city budget. Rober said the redevelopment money will likely pay for some salaries in next year's budget as well.
Other salaries will be paid for from the city's general fund, which officials hope will be buoyed by new stop light cameras planned for installation later this year. Zeigler estimated that over the next year, the city would receive fines from 9,600 different tickets — about 200 a month from each of its four cameras — totaling about $720,000.
What Rober has called a "triple whammy" of taxes will begin to hit within the next few months. The City Council could soon set its property tax rate up to $5.62 per $1,000 in taxable value, a $1.40 millage raise. Water and sewer rates, unchanged since 2002, were increased last month. And in January, the city's revived franchise fee on electricity will add about $7 to the average resident's monthly bill.
In October, all city employees received a 2 percent pay raise. Zeigler said no raises have been budgeted this year, though Posivach's contract, which set her salary at $132,000 a year, could change when it is renewed in November.
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Port Richey City Manager Ellen Posivach traveled to the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Fla., on Aug. 19 for a Florida League of Cities financial board meeting. A previous version of this story misstated duration and purpose of her trip.