NEW PORT RICHEY — City Manager John Schneiger wants to set aside money next budget year to hire an economic development manager — someone to get stalled downtown projects moving, bring businesses into empty storefronts and revitalize neighborhoods.
City Council members gave him the green light this week to craft the proposal as budget talks move forward. But some members questioned how effective such a position would be, and whether the focus should remain on downtown when New Port Richey has a number of deteriorating neighborhoods.
Council member Bob Langford said he has seen neighborhoods in serious disrepair that "are not okay at all."
"Not in any way," he said at the council meeting Tuesday night.
The city's redevelopment action plan of nearly 50 pages has only a few pages on neighborhood revitalization, with the rest focusing on downtown, which council member Ginny Miller called "unacceptable." She also said additional funding for code enforcement may be more essential, as the city has reached a "critical lull" with only one officer handling cases.
Schneiger's proposal is to hire someone with five to 10 years of economic development experience to promote downtown revitalization and neighborhood improvements. The person would work out of the city manager's office and would be at the level of a department head.
The salary range would be somewhere between $56,300 and $82,721, most likely around $60,000 to $65,000, according to Schneiger's proposal. Coupled with benefits, the city would need to set aside $100,000 to make the position happen.
Mayor Bob Consalvo was in no mood to approve a new position Tuesday, though, saying he needed more information. He also questioned creating a position the city has done away with the past due to lack of success. He expressed concern over a growing trend he sees that New Port Richey is becoming a city filled with home renters, instead of owners.
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe – who first raised the prospect of creating the economic development position – said the city needs a "bird dog" to push on economic development issues.
Marlowe said the problems are fourfold: a downtown with empty storefronts, a stretch of U.S. 19 that is "beyond ugly," troubled neighborhoods, and a hospital on the verge of pulling out.
With Community Hospital moving to Trinity, Marlowe said he fears other businesses in the area may leave or go under.
He acknowledged that deteriorating neighborhoods also need to be addressed.
"There are some scary places within the city of New Port Richey," Marlowe said.