NEW PORT RICHEY — A stalemate among City Council members has put funding for nearly all of the city's big events in jeopardy.
In the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, city finance officials had included $50,000 worth of city services, such as public works and police, for various special events. Most of the support would have gone toward Chasco Fiesta, Main Street Blast and the Holiday Street Parade, according to City Manager John Schneiger.
But by the end of a contentious discussion among council members Tuesday night, that figure was slashed to about $10,000 in services solely to the Holiday Parade. That would leave larger events such as Chasco, Main Street Blast, Cotee River Bike Fest and the Cotee River Seafood and Blues Festival on their own.
"I have a real problem funding these parties when we're laying people off," said Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe, referring to the proposed layoffs of 15 full-time and part-time employees in next year's budget.
Marlowe had an ally in council member Bob Langford, who also called for zero funding of events, while council member Judy DeBella Thomas and Mayor Bob Consalvo urged continuing support for special events. The mayor singled out Chasco's importance to the city.
"It's just part of our heritage," Consalvo said.
Council member Bill Phillips, who said little during the discussion on special events funding, told the Times on Wednesday he's in favor of finding funding for Chasco and the other festivals once final decisions are made on layoffs.
The board did reach a consensus that the Holiday Parade could not sustain itself, as it's an event geared toward children with few revenue sources, such as corporate sponsorships or alcohol and food sales.
"Let's face it, when you throw a Christmas parade you aren't expecting to make a profit," Marlowe told the Times Wednesday.
But the stalemate between the two factions over the rest of the events led Consalvo to direct Schneiger to provide funding only for the parade. The decision is not yet final, however, as the council will be presented with a final budget next month for approval.
The movement toward cutting numerous special event budgets down to nothing left planners questioning whether the council wants events in the city at all.
"It sounds like the decision of the city is they don't want special events. They don't seem to care how many people these events bring to the city," said Joe Alpine, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the Chasco and Bike Fest events.
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. The city similarly reduced its support of other special events, which also gathered more volunteers and cut costs to keep their festivals going.
Alpine said if the city provides no services to Chasco next year, the chamber would have to make decisions on how to continue the event.
"We would have to look at everything," he said. "My question is and always has been if the city does this and puts an end to these events, what are they going to do to bring people to downtown New Port Richey? Because they aren't doing anything right now."
Greater New Port Richey Main Street Executive Director Beth Fregger expressed disappointment that Main Street Blast would not at least be provided a sponsorship for services, which allows the organization to put its funds toward purchasing fireworks for the event.
"It's very disappointing. I don't know that this council wants to see headlines that they are against fireworks for July 4th," she said.