PORT RICHEY — Keep the city, or revoke its charter?
City residents will get to answer that question in a special election. The City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday evening to approve the second and final reading of an ordinance putting the dissolution question on the ballot.
The question won't make it on the ballot for the April 14 municipal election, but a special election could be held in the next two months.
"Within their charter, it mentions 60 days out to set an election day," said Brian Corley, supervisor of elections. "It comes down to when we can do it, when I get something official from the city on the language for the ballot."
One voting method Corley discussed with the council was a mailed ballot that would be sent to registered voters within 20 days of election day. All ballots would have to be returned to the elections office by 7 p.m. on election day, Corley said.
On Tuesday, Vice Mayor Mark Hashim and council members Phil Abts and Perry Bean voted in favor of putting the dissolution question to voters. Council member Steven O'Neil and Mayor Richard Rober voted against it.
Rober said Wednesday that before voting on the ordinance, the council should have held a workshop that discussed what happens if the city were to dissolve.
"The big question is, what happens to our (redevelopment) fund? There's a couple million sitting in there," Rober said. "And what happens to insurance rates and home values?"
Rober said one motivation to keep the city intact is municipal home rule.
"You have greater control at the local level," Rober said. "You get increased safety of residents and general welfare. Dissolution for us is as finite as death."
Residents of this city of 3,200 are no strangers to dissolution petitions. The issue last came to a vote in 2007, when 54 percent rejected a measure to dissolve the city.
But proponents didn't consider the matter dead.
By this January, a petitioners committee gathered 200 signatures — the required 10 percent of the city's registered voters — and drafted an ordinance asking residents of the city if they wanted to dissolve.
But the petition was improperly done, prompting the council to vote 3-2 on Feb. 10 for City Attorney Michael Brannigan to redraft the petition.
That vote, and the council's two votes on the latest ordinance, were identical. Hashim, Bean and Abts voted in favor, and O'Neil and Rober dissented.
On Wednesday, Bean said he was disappointed that the issue has once again come to a vote.
"I wish that the two sides over the years could have found some middle ground, and we didn't even have to be here," he said. "I've had folks come up to me and ask me, 'Why is this an up or down situation, a yes or a no?'
"My response to that is, everybody involved has forced it there."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.