NEW PORT RICHEY — With layoffs and deep budget cuts looming, city officials will go on a PR blitz to inform the public on the scope of major economic problems that New Port Richey faces.
City Manager John Schneiger presented a "communications action plan" to the New Port Richey City Council on Tuesday night. It will be an effort to get face-to-face with residents to discuss the city's dire economic situation.
Hopes are the public relations effort — which the council agreed should be called "Meeting the Challenge Together" — will educate the public, drum up volunteers and generate ideas for economic development among the city's business community and civic groups.
"It's an effort to explain to the public why you have to make the difficult decisions you will have to make," Schneiger told the council. "I can't stress enough how important communications are in a situation like this."
Schneiger said plans are to schedule several public meetings at various locations for the council to meet with residents.
The city also is launching a new website at the end of the month that will contain economic news. Schneiger said he also may be writing an editorial outlining the situation to offer local media outlets.
For many on the council, involving groups such as the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and Greater New Port Richey Main Street will be key.
"We've got to have buy-in from various groups," said Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe.
The economic projections for the city in the next five years are dire. Last month, the city learned that property values dropped nearly 11 percent this year, drastically cutting the income from property taxes.
In addition, the city faces a $695,000 drop from two kinds of utility taxes: a surcharge that all city residents pay on their electric bill, and a utility franchise fee that Progress Energy pays the city.
The news piled on an external auditor's existing forecast of a deficit of about $12 million over the next five years, but the situation involving the property and utility taxes spiked the projection to about $15 million, according to Schneiger.
Schneiger says layoffs cannot be avoided, and that an announcement on possible job losses could come by the end of the month.