NEW PORT RICHEY — Organizers of the popular Chasco Fiesta say they are in discussions with several venues outside the city to possibly move the event should a dispute over funding go unresolved.
West Pasco Chamber of Commerce officials who plan the event say it cannot survive without funding from New Port Richey. Meanwhile, city officials have said those funds must be considered along with other cuts in a difficult economy.
Relations have been ice cold between Chasco organizers and the city since it announced cuts for all special events. In June, City Manager John Schneiger presented the City Council with a report that the city spends $180,000 a year on special events, $85,000 for Chasco.
More than two months later, Chasco Fiesta executive director Kristen King said planners are looking at as many as five locations for the 11-day event that dates to 1922. She declined to give specifics. Rumors have swirled that Tarpon Springs may be a location, which King said she could "neither confirm nor deny."
"We are looking at all of our options," she said. "We want to stay in New Port Richey, but we are prepping for the worst-case scenario."
Schneiger's June report stated the city's goal would be for all special events to pay their own way, but now he is hoping just to reach a compromise to meet Chasco's planners halfway.
The two sides are hoping for a thaw during a Sept. 8 meeting between the chamber and the city's event planning committee, which is charged with finding ways to cut costs on special events.
But if Schneiger is seeking for Chasco to pay half of the expenses the city normally chips in for the event each year, it will be forced to move, King said. She said planners haven't reached a specific dollar amount that will enable Chasco to survive.
"It's unfortunate," Schneiger said of the chamber's efforts to possibly move. "It's a concern there seems to be such a disconnect right now."
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe, a downtown business owner who has been a vocal critic of Chasco's spending practices and planning for traffic and parking, said the chamber "riled up" residents to the point he is receiving "hateful communications."
"They have adopted this scorched-earth policy that is not good for anything," Marlowe said. "I am very disappointed in how the chamber has handled this."
King said when city officials presented the idea of funding cuts, some also made reference to complaints that City Hall gets every year about Chasco. In response, the chamber asked supporters to contact their representatives about positives that Chasco brings to the city.
"All of the things I have seen that have been sent have been positive. That's not our intention at all," King said of any negative communications that Marlowe received.
But Schneiger says he, too, is frustrated with the tact some Chasco supporters have taken.
"I resent the fact that they are trying to paint us as antispecial event. It's totally unfair," he said. "We are in very difficult financial times and there are no sacred cows right now when it comes to budget concerns."