PORT RICHEY — Three residents have filed a petition in court challenging the validity of an ordinance that lays the framework for the upcoming referendum on dissolving the city of Port Richey.
Former mayor and attorney Eloise Taylor drafted the writ of certiorari in which Ed Ostrand and former City Council members Dale Massad and Jim Priest say the city has not met two of the three conditions that state law requires to be satisfied before a municipality can dissolve.
The first condition:
"The county or another municipality must be demonstrably able to provide necessary services to the municipal area proposed for dissolution."
The second condition:
"An equitable arrangement must be made in relation to bonded indebtedness and vested rights of employees of the municipality to be dissolved."
A third condition, according to the writ, has been met, which is that the "municipality to be dissolved must not be substantially surrounded by other municipalities."
Before drafting the ordinance that puts the dissolution question to voters, Priest said, City Council should have completed a plan outlining what happens to the city if voters decide to dissolve it.
The date for the referendum has not yet been set.
"What I'm asking a judge to do is find, as we do, that the ordinance is deficient right now, and it needs to be brought back and redone, then put to a vote," Priest said. "Once this thing goes to a vote, there's no turning back."
According to the ordinance, drafted by City Attorney Michael Brannigan, the city has to create a dissolution plan within 90 days of the effective date of the ordinance. A divided City Council approved that ordinance March 10.
The ordinance details severance packages for city employees if the city dissolved but doesn't address how to deal with issues like the city's $15 million in assets and $5.2 million in debt.
The council will hold workshops on April 21 and May 5 at City Hall to field residents' questions about what happens if the city dissolves.
Even if the council drafts a dissolution plan before the referendum and holds workshops, Priest said, the council should have planned further ahead to discuss the matter with residents.
"Unless those workshops are a month apiece, all the questions won't get answered," he said. "This is why you have a plan in place before you ever dream about an ordinance."
But council member Phil Abts says the workshops will answer residents' questions before they vote, which will be through mailed ballots.
"I see this as a ploy to prevent the citizens from having their right to vote," Abts said. "The citizens will be educated at workshops, and they have the right and ability to talk to any county administrator, council person or city employee."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.