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New Port Richey festivals march on despite budget cuts

NEW PORT RICHEY

This year's Holiday Parade through downtown New Port Richey looked much like previous years' events. Greg Armstrong counts that as a victory.

"The kids had no idea that anything had changed, and that is what we hoped for," said Armstrong, co-chair of the parade sponsored by the Holiday Rotary Club.

As New Port Richey felt the squeeze of shrinking tax revenue and the strain of real estate debt, officials decided in June they could no longer foot the entire bill for providing police officers, firefighters and public works and parks crews to facilitate downtown events. In the previous year, the city spent about $180,000 supporting such events, including $26,000 for the Holiday Parade.

The announcement created a scramble for the nonprofit groups behind the city's main events. A few months later, Rotary leaders struck a compromise with the city: They would triple the army of volunteers helping with setup and cleanup, and enlist inmates from the county jail to set up barricades along the route. The city would kick in $10,000 in staff support to keep the beloved Holiday Parade going.

"Considering what we had to cut back on, it went smooth as silk," Armstrong said.

Except for a few stiff backs among the volunteers.

"One thing I did learn is we need younger volunteers next year," he said. "All of us are not as young as we used to be, so there were some sore people the next day."

The funding cutbacks posed a more dire situation for Chasco Fiesta, which cost an estimated $80,000 in city support the previous year. At one point, organizers of the storied 11-day festival, which provides the venue for more than 30 nonprofits to raise money through everything from food booths to the coronation ball, threatened to move the event elsewhere (though they didn't say where).

In October, the City Council agreed to provide $40,000 in services supporting the event. Planning for the March event is going well, according to West Pasco Chamber of Commerce president Joe Alpine. As with the parade, volunteers will pick up much of the slack that came from funding cuts.

"It looks like we are going to have a great event," Alpine said. "I thought the negotiations with the city were good, once the communication got better."

Mayor Bob Consalvo agreed, saying event planners needed to realize that crucial issues such as redevelopment, as well as police and fire services, take precedent for the city's limited funds.

"I have said all along I want to keep Chasco here, all of the events here," he said. "They provide a good quality of life."

While the funding controversy has subsided, a new battle is brewing over the city's special events.

Next month the City Council will consider changing its alcohol ordinance to allow patrons of downtown bars and restaurants to take their drinks outside during special events.

Alpine railed against the proposal during a Dec. 13 council work session, saying it would provide a free ride to business owners to profit from the festivals while draining the alcohol sales from the nonprofit vendors who rely on beer sales to raise money at these events.

Consalvo agreed with Alpine that the change would hurt the events, while Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe sided with business owners.

"Our responsibility is to taxpaying businesses, not the nonprofits," Marlowe said.

New Port Richey festivals march on despite budget cuts 12/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 7:28pm]

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