NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials on Tuesday night had their annual debate on whether to continue funding the New Port Richey Main Street program. The group remains financially strapped and claims it cannot survive without city funding.
The question of whether to fund the often controversial program pops up every year, and, like last year, the City Council, acting as the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, approved the funding, but did so only after offering scathing commentary regarding the group's reliance on large special events.
"I think the Main Street program has gone seriously off the rails," Mayor Rob Marlowe said.
New Port Richey Main Street — part of a state program that helps communities drive their economies and promote their towns — has been around for nearly 30 years. And it has received annual funding from the city, a relationship that has been rocky for the past decade as New Port Richey officials continually eye the bang they are getting for their bucks.
Main Street has been given more than $800,000 during its lifespan, but city funding has dwindled from a high of $50,000 in 1999 to $10,000 in 2015. It has also come close to having past councils slash its funding altogether, most notably when then-Main Street executive director Judy DeBella Thomas, who also served on the council, resigned her director's position in 2010 to break a deadlocked council. She then cast the deciding vote to award $30,000 to Main Street.
DeBella Thomas, who is still on the council, made a lengthy speech Tuesday night in favor of a proposed $15,000 CRA grant for the coming year, saying Main Street has done incredible work promoting the city.
Other council members had a dimmer view, along the lines of Marlowe's, saying Main Street has focusing solely on putting on special events and abandoned its missions of improving downtown, economic development and enhancing a sense of community through partnerships.
Last year, the council agreed on a different model for funding by creating a city position for the person who was Main Street's executive director. But that proved a failure, Main Street board members told the council. The group has hired a new director, and, after losing office space provided by the city, is paying rent for another spot downtown.
Main Street board member Steve Schurdell urged the CRA to consider the good things Main Street has done to promote the city through its special events, especially during the recession, when New Port Richey's downtown suffered. Schurdell acknowledged that Main Street can do a better job on other aspects of its mission, but cutting its funding would not help in that endeavor, he said.
The CRA board eventually voted to approve $15,000 for Main Street during the coming year, but also agreed to Schurdell's suggestion to hold a work session to discuss further funding and the direction Main Street should go.
In other action, the council concluded months of public meetings and planning with approval of an ordinance that will allow for medical marijuana dispensaries in commercial areas of the city, with the exception of its downtown district.
The next step for the council will be to come up with development guidelines for the businesses.