New Port Richey considers deeper cuts to Main Street, special events

NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials are looking at more funding cuts for Greater New Port Richey Main Street and some of the city's most popular events, scrimping in every corner of next year's budget.

The city has steadily decreased its funding of Main Street over the years. The nonprofit group, which organizes downtown events like Main Street Blast and the Cotee River Seafood & Blues Festival, received $40,000 from the city in 2009. This year it got $25,000.

Next year, officials propose just $10,000. And even that could be on the chopping block before budget negotiations are all said and done, Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said.

"Will it still be there at the end of the budget season? I don't know," he said. "We have to look at everything."

Next year would likely be the last year for any Main Street funding, as the city plans to zero out its funding for the group in 2013-14, City Manager John Schneiger told the Times.

The proposed budget cuts didn't come as a surprise to the organization, which has long battled the city over its funding, even in better economic times.

"We had heard that budget cuts were probably coming, so we have been preparing as though we are not going to be receiving funding from the city," said Main Street Executive Director Beth Fregger. "It's tough, it's going to be different."

Fregger, who took charge of the organization in February, said Main Street should be able to continue its mission with other funds. The group also raises money through sponsorships and its special events. Fregger said the group has pulled in nearly $50,000 in profits from this year's Cotee River festival and Main Street Blast.

Fregger is also working to broaden Main Street's efforts to include economic development and beautification projects.

"I think we could be a tremendous marketing tool for the city," Fregger said. "I wish the city would utilize us more."

With the city facing a $17 million budget shortfall over the next five years, other special events will likely feel the squeeze, too. New Port Richey officials figure they used to spend $180,000 in personnel time and other costs supporting several downtown events. Last year they chipped in less than a third of that amount, forcing event organizers to cut costs and round up more volunteers.

The proposed budget for next year has set aside $50,000 for special events, such as Chasco Fiesta, the Cotee River Bike Fest and the annual holiday parade. But during a work session earlier this week, City Council members said that figure should be cut drastically, in light of the 15 full-time and part-time employees facing potential layoffs.

"I just can't see spending $50,000 on special events when we are talking about people losing their jobs," Marlowe said.

Council members will weigh that amount against other spending cuts as they hash out the budget for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Kristen King, executive director of the Chasco Fiesta, said the event will still need some support from city police and public works crews to keep New Port Richey's biggest festival afloat. Just how much remains to be seen.

"It's kind of wait and see right now," King said. "It's hard to say until we see what the city's actuals are from this past event."

As planning was under way last fall for the Chasco 2012 event, it was unclear whether the city would provide any support at all. In previous years, New Port Richey spent about $85,000 to provide police officers, firefighters and public works and parks crews for the 11-day festival, which provides the venue for more than 30 nonprofits to raise money through everything from food booths to the coronation ball. City officials considered cutting off the funding altogether, then compromised on a sponsorship of $40,000 in services.

Chasco organizers scaled the event down to nine days, drew in legions of volunteers and ended up using only $26,000 of that sponsorship during the March festival, according to New Port Richey Finance Director Doug Haag.

"They volunteered up and did an excellent job. They should be commended for it," Haag said.

New Port Richey considers deeper cuts to Main Street, special events 07/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 14, 2012 12:49pm]

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