NEW PORT RICHEY — Cash-strapped city officials have proposed nearly doubling the stormwater assessment and raising the street light fees, all part of the attempts "to restore the city's financial health," according to a memo by finance director Doug Haag.
The proposals include increasing the stormwater assessment from $40.32 to $77.36 per home; and raising the street light assessment from $26.07 to $36.24.
Both fees appear on the property tax bill for every developed property within the city limits of New Port Richey. Raising them would require the City Council's approval as part of spending plan for next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.
"Fee increases of any kind are never popular for anyone, however in this situation it is essential to preserve the short and long-term financial stability of the City of New Port Richey," Haag wrote.
Part of the increase reflects the sticker-shock of bringing the fees up to date, Haag said in the memo. He noted the stormwater fees haven't changed since that program's inception in 2001.
The stormwater fees pay for maintaining more than 40 miles of pipes and 80 drainage structures such as catch basins, plus street sweeping and the mowing of retention ponds and right-of-ways. Haag wrote that part of the growing expense comes from "unfunded mandates imposed by the Federal Government," which established higher water quality standards for stormwater treatment.
The street lighting assessment pays for lighting city streets, right-of-ways and parks. Haag noted that this would be the second rate increase since the program began in 2003.
Both proposed rate hikes would continue through at least 2017, under the proposal. Without the increases, those programs would drain an estimated $1.9 million over five years from the city's general fund, Haag said.
The proposed increases come as finance officials have projected the city will have a $17 million budget shortfall over the next five years due to substantial debt on a couple of redevelopment sites, a property tax base that plunged 11 percent this year, and two electric utility funds which are bringing in less money than expected. The proposed budget for next year includes layoffs of 15 workers and eliminating or freezing nine more vacant positions, for a total savings of nearly $950,000.
After a City Council meeting Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said tax hikes were long overdue, but acknowledged as a resident and downtown business owner they will be painful for everyone.
"I'm going to get hit hard," he said of looming tax increases. "But it's something we have to do."