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Port Richey moves to cut 10 percent utility tax

PORT RICHEY — By Tuesday evening, the "puppets'' had finally had enough.

Since their election to City Council in April, Perry Bean and Phil Abts have suffered the slings and arrows of former council member Phyllis Grae. On various occasions she has called them "empty suits" and "puppets" of Vice Mayor Mark Hashim.

During Tuesday's council meeting, Grae objected to their support of a tax cut without having a plan to make up the loss of funds to the city. Bean and Abts, she said, had never seen the city budget.

For the first time since Grae began her attacks, one of her targets responded.

"First of all, Ms. Grae, I have seen many budgets, including from this city," Bean said. "There is a section in the city charter on decorum. It outlines what you may not say and how you may and may not behave.

"You have been given a lot of lenience. I am here to tell you now that I'm watching you. When you come up to that microphone, you are not permitted to make certain remarks, or I will call a vote (to remove Grae from the meeting)."

Grae's comments came in the midst of public comment regarding Hashim's proposal to eliminate the city's utility tax.

The fee — 10 percent of each resident's power bill — raises about $264,000 a year for the city. The council voted 3-2 last month (Mayor Richard Rober and council member Steven O'Neill dissented) to consider Hashim's idea.

Hashim suggested the cut to put a little money back in residents' pockets during the economic downturn, but didn't have ideas on how to replace the funds. He said Tuesday he's confident that City Manager Richard Reade can find a way to make up the difference.

Grae cautioned against cutting the tax before budget hearings start later this month.

"One of the reasons gentlemen sit on council is to be fiscally responsible," Grae said. "You're taking from a budget that two of the newest members on council have never seen."

Despite objections from Grae and a few others, the council voted 3-2 in favor of repealing the tax. Rober and O'Neill dissented again. The matter will return to the council for a final vote July 22.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

>>FAST FACTS

What happened?

The City Council took the first step Tuesday toward repealing the city's utility tax, a 10 percent surcharge on residents' power bills. If the council axes the tax at a second hearing July 22, residents would see a lower bill starting in October. The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 6333 Ridge Road.

Port Richey moves to cut 10 percent utility tax 07/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 7:45pm]
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