NEW PORT RICHEY — The economy kept this city's high-profile projects on ice, but by the end of the year things were heating up on one question.
Who will be the next city manager?
Officials were showered with more than 200 applications. (One familiar name in the bunch? New Port Richey Police Chief Martin Rickus.)
Chalk the interest up to the economy. Back in 2004, when the city had its last outside search, about half as many people applied.
Acting City Manager Tom O'Neill said he and other top officials are whittling down the list — many of the applicants had no government experience — and will give the names to the City Council sometime this month.
Originally, O'Neill had planned to serve again. The city's longtime public works director, O'Neill was appointed the permanent city manager in 2008.
But in 2004, he had joined the Florida Retirement System's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which requires participants to retire after five years. This year, his time was up.
So in March, O'Neill and council members planned for O'Neill to "retire" last summer then return and be re-hired. But amid some controversy over the practice — and since O'Neill decided he liked retirement after all — city leaders decided to conduct an outside search. O'Neill agreed to come back and help out in the interim.
Whoever ends up with the job will have a long "to-do" list.
One major challenge? Next year's budget season.
The city's general fund continues to suffer from the same things that affect other local governments — shrinking property values, Amendment 1 — but New Port Richey faces an additional issue: Nearly the entire city is designated as a community redevelopment area.
That means taxes generated by increases in property values after 2001 go toward redevelopment efforts — and not to the general fund, which covers such services as police, library and parks.
On the development front, city officials and Main Street Landing developer Ken McGurn continue negotiations over what to do about the stalled project. McGurn has submitted final plans to finish the exterior of the building, but he still wants the city to loan him $1.45 million as part of a proposed development agreement.
Developers behind the renovation and expansion of the Hacienda Hotel are still trying to get financing for the project but recently did complete one critical part of that effort: a feasibility study.
Though its major projects foundered, the city this year accomplished a number of smaller ones, from opening a new public works facility to undertaking a road improvement project in a number of neighborhoods.
"It's not like this city is sitting still," said O'Neill.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.