NEW PORT RICHEY — Another city election, another focus on ideas for redevelopment.
But with property tax revenues expected to drop by $523,000 next year because of the voter-mandated tax cut, this year's crop of candidates for mayor and City Council know that, if elected, they'll also be sweating over budget details.
They are vying for two open seats: Mayor Dan Tipton is stepping down to run for clerk of the circuit court, and Council member Ginny Miller is leaving her seat to run for the County Commission.
Here's a quick rundown of the candidates looking to replace them.
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Mayoral candidate Scott McPherson, a downtown lawyer, said his energy and background are assets in dealing with stalled redevelopment projects, most notably Main Street Landing, and with shortfalls in the budget.
"I think I'd be a good choice simply because of the challenges," he said. "I like challenges."
McPherson said he believes the city must have some "areas of waste" to cut; he wants to look, for instance, at why workers accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay last year and whether the city should reduce the $45,000 grant it gives to Greater New Port Richey Main Street.
He said at this point citizens should not see any service cuts or employee reductions. He also wants to improve the city Web site and rethink the rental ordinance, which he said could lead to an abuse of government power.
Bob Langford, a former City Council member, said he wants New Port Richey to capitalize on its arts and cultural offerings. He said he could see the city-owned First Baptist Church property becoming a performing arts center.
And if the plans to turn the Hacienda into an upscale hotel were to fall through, he said he'd like to see the hotel turned into the Florida Music Hall of Fame.
"Why not?" said Langford, who helped start the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
On the budget front, he said the city should sell the River Road church property it owns (the church's parking lot is rarely used for boat parking, the main reason the council purchased the property). He also said the city should court more annexations and enlist more volunteers to fill positions at the library.
Tom Finn, also a former City Council member, said his No. 1 issue is shoring up the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which he said suffers from "a lack of vision." He said too much of the agency's budget goes toward staff rather than to the type of incentives that would draw business.
"Now with the budget sky falling, you have to be even more creative," he said.
Finn is the only candidate who says the city should consider cutting some of its workforce, though he hasn't determined which ones.
"I really feel we have way too many people working for the city," he said.
Judy DeBella Thomas said her role as the executive director of the Main Street program has given her insights — and networking contacts — into spurring downtown redevelopment. She said her position has also taught her how to work with a tight budget.
The organization gets a $45,000 grant from the city. Thomas said the city attorney told her there was not a conflict in her keeping that job as a council member as long as she sat out during the vote on the Main Street grant.
"The program is all about the city," she said.
Thomas' other ideas include encouraging eco-friendly initiatives to make New Port Richey a "green city."
Glenn Hanff, a medical sales consultant, said he wants to help the city more aggressively market companies and provide incentives for their location downtown.
He said he had long been interested in running for political office, and after he moved to downtown about two years ago, he began thinking about what the city should do in that area.
"It really bothers me that there's no grocery store," he said.
Though his political resume is short, he said he has other assets.
"I feel I'm a very good communicator and, with my active participation in the community, I feel I'm very responsive," he said.
Susan Clark, who served on the council from 2001 to 2003, said she was ready to redevote herself to civic life.
"I've been out of the loop for a while. I want to have a hand on what's going on in the city," she said.
She said she would withhold ideas on how to trim next year's budget.
"Until you're in there doing the job," she said, "you're not privy to everything going on."
"I've been on City Council before," she said. "That should help me. I have the time to dedicate full time to this job."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at (727) 869-6247 or [email protected]