NEW PORT RICHEY — If a sparsely attended town hall meeting is any indication, city officials may not face much opposition from the public on a proposal to nearly double the stormwater assessment and increase street light fees for residents.
Less than a dozen people attended a town hall meeting Thursday evening at City Hall where New Port Richey officials made their case to increase the yearly stormwater assessment from $40.32 to $77.36 per home and raise the street light assessment from $26.07 to $36.24 a year.
City Manager John Schneiger outlined the city's dire financial projection of a $17 million deficit over the next five years, and said without rate increases both the stormwater and street light funds cannot sustain themselves.
This fiscal year the stormwater assessments brought in $525,000, but the city had $825,000 in stormwater expenses, for a loss of $300,000. The street light fund also lost $88,000, with $224,000 in revenue exceeded by $312,000 in expenditures.
If approved by City Council, both proposed increases would prevent a $1.9 million drain on the city's general fund over the next five years, according to city reports.
"This is the most difficult budget we have ever had. We believe it's the responsible thing we are doing here," Schneiger told those in attendance.
New Port Richey resident Cathy Fata sought details on the city's rising costs to comply with stricter federal stormwater quality standards. Some of the requirements include inspecting ponds for potential mosquito breeding, increased inspection of inlets, catch basins, pipes, and culverts, as well as implementing a written public education program to reduce citizens' use of pesticides.
"A lot of things you listed seem pretty simple. It doesn't seem like it would take that much money to do them," Fata said.
Stormwater operations are more complex and costly than they may appear, Assistant Public Works Director Robert Rivera responded.
"There's nothing cheap when it comes to stormwater," he said.
The City Council will make a final decision on the proposed fee increases Tuesday, but it may not be the last tax hike residents face. Schneiger said city staff is also looking at asking the council to set the tentative property tax millage rate at the maximum of 10 mills to give finance officials planning flexibility.
Currently, the millage rate in the city is 8.3877 mills, and the rollback this year is 8.6540. City officials have estimated a millage rate of 9.4343 would be needed this year in order to balance the budget. The tentative rate will be set at a July 24 meeting, but can be reduced prior to the final rate being adopted in September.
Also, this fall the city may be looking at possibly enacting a fire assessment for residents, Schneiger said.
"We're not there yet, but it's something we may need to look at," Schneiger said. "Of course, we also have to be concerned about how many fees our citizens can absorb."