NEW PORT RICHEY — It's amazing how far $261,371 can go.
City officials had a long list of painful spending cuts on the table this budget season. As finance director Doug Haag took another spin through the numbers, though, he found extra money in several places. More electric fee revenue than expected. Savings in renegotiated insurance premiums. Additional dollars if the city keeps the higher proposed tax rate.
Along with other items, the savings amounted to $261,371.
During a work session on Thursday evening, the City Council used that windfall to restore funding for some of the most contested items on the chopping block:
• Pools. The lap pool at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center, previously proposed for closure from Sept. 4 to May 24, will have enough funding to remain open year-round. The council also reached a consensus to keep the kiddie pool, dive pool and slide pool open for seven months of the year (they would be closed during the winter). Altogether that will cost $28,000.
"Is everyone happy?" a grinning Mayor Bob Consalvo asked the audience, which contained a group of young swimmers who have pleaded with the council in the past to keep the pool open.
Many heads bobbed up and down.
• Downtown events. After several impassioned pleas from Chasco Fiesta organizers, the council restored $40,000 for special events. It will mean $10,000 for Greater New Port Richey Main Street events such as Main Street Blast, and $30,000 for Chasco Fiesta.
"We love being here, we want to be here, but we still need your support," Chasco executive director Kristen King told the council before its decision.
The council was at a stalemate last week over special event funding, which Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said was a luxury at a time when the city is contemplating layoffs. But council member Bill Phillips argued Thursday evening that the recognition and economic impact Chasco brings to the city should be maintained.
The funding helps pay for public works, police and other city services that support the special events.
• Debris collection. The council also earmarked $60,000 for a scaled-back version of its debris collection program, which had been slashed from the proposed budget. Officials had been concerned that cutting this program would lead to rampant illegal dumping.
• Rec center jobs. A full-time swim coach and a part-time custodian — both jobs that had been on the proposed layoff list — were restored, at a cost of $50,000.
The city also agreed to negotiate with a local swim team that trains at the facility, the New Port Richey branch of Tampa Bay Aquatics, to allow its use of the pool during winter months.
Team parent Hal Blethroad said the Tampa Bay Aquatics would be willing to pay for heating of the pool during its practices. City Manager John Schneiger also said the team will likely see a fee increase from the current $50-a-month paid by each swimmer.
Blethroad was pleased with the rec center services and positions that were restored Thursday evening.
"It's a step in the right direction," Blethroad told the Times. "But we still need to sit down with the city to talk about what our share will be, because we really need to know as soon as possible."
Where did the $261,371 come from?
New Port Richey has a shrinking tax base, a heavy debt load from redevelopment properties bought during the boom and a projected $17 million shortfall over the next five years. So where did finance officials find the latest windfall?
In a memo to City Council, City Finance Director Doug Haag explained how New Port Richey will see a net increase of $182,772 in revenue, plus a net decrease of $78,599 in expenditures, for the budget year starting Oct. 1.
Changes in revenue include:
• An additional $91,006 in electric franchise fees collected by the city
• An extra $68,000 if the city stays with a higher tax rate ($9.57 in taxes per $1,000 of taxable property)
• An $80,373 grant that will pay for an additional code enforcement officer
Changes in expenditures include:
• Savings of $83,685 from renegotiating health insurance and property liability insurance premiums
• Net reductions of $30,580 from the pool budget to reflect various savings from the summer season
• Savings of $40,000 from postponing resurfacing of the tennis courts
After the city accounted for these and other items, Haag calculated the $261,371 cushion that council members could use to restore some programs previously on the chopping block.