Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

New Port Richey approves 'ugly' budget that cuts jobs

NEW PORT RICHEY — A City Council exhausted by months of negotiations settled on a final budget that will cut eight jobs, reduce two positions from full-time to part-time and leave another 10 unfilled spots frozen.

The City Council on Monday evening approved the $44 million spending plan for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The new budget is down 11.5 percent from this past year's budget. Council member Bob Langford cast the only vote against the budget, protesting the library cuts it contained.

"The library has basically been left out of this solution," he said, referring to negotiations that staved off cuts to other services and a handful of positions.

Among other things, the city found money to keep the lap pool open year-round at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center, preserve some funding for special events such as Chasco Fiesta and the holiday street parade, and maintain a scaled-down version of the debris collection program.

Still, the budget brings layoffs.

Two part-time library information specialist jobs were cut and another librarian reduced to part-time. The council also eliminated a billing and collection supervisor and administrative assistant, two part-time development receptionists, a parks maintenance worker, and aquatics coordinator. The budget also reduces another accounting clerk from full-time to part time.

The cuts came this year as city officials warned that New Port Richey faces a $17 million budget shortfall over the next five years if it doesn't make drastic changes. The biggest drain is debt service on several redevelopment properties the city owns but has been unable to unload in a down real estate market.

Acting City Manager and Finance Director Doug Haag said Monday that due to the cuts included in the new budget, that deficit has been reduced to $9 million over the next five years.

The council also approved a resolution establishing a 14 percent property tax hike, from nearly $8.39 to $9.58 in tax per $1,000 in taxable property. That increase didn't sit well with resident Ed Cilsick.

"Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," he said after addressing the council decrying the increase.

The new millage rate is expected to generate $4.5 million. Haag noted that city property values had dropped 11 percent, offsetting much of the tax rate increase.

City Council member Bill Phillips added that the board did everything it could to search for every dollar until Monday's deadline when the council had to officially get something finalized.

"I think you'll see we did our due diligence," he said. "At the end of the day, though we're not happy, we have to stop and get something in place."

"This budget, it's ugly," added Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe. "But the question is can we stomach it?" he said. "I think the council has done what we needed to do."

After the meeting, Marlowe said he received word that City Manager John Schneiger would need to take another week of medical leave. Schneiger had been on leave the past two weeks for reasons undisclosed by the city.

"I think this has taken a toll on everybody," Marlowe said of the budget season.

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