Pasco County doesn't trust Port Richey. It is the central sentiment in a dispute over annexing 1,900 acres of a coastal state park into the city of Port Richey. Fearing an ulterior motive — that the city will seek to annex even more land to enrich its Community Redevelopment Agency with county tax dollars — Pasco County commissioners objected to the annexation Tuesday, though no formal vote was taken. The city maintains the state wants to come into Port Richey as a way to save water and sewer costs at the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park restrooms.
While Commissioner Pat Mulieri focused on the illogical parochialism of the county losing a state park (it's not like its legal address or geographic location is changing), a more legitimate concern is the city's inability to guarantee future councils will abide by the promise not to cherry-pick other land contiguous to the park.
The county suspects Port Richey wants the park land as a precursor to future annexations along the U.S. 19 corridor to expand its tax base and to replenish its Community Redevelopment treasury, some of which is being spent on annual personnel costs. Currently, the county sends the city nearly $650,000 a year through the tax plan that designates added revenue, generated from increasing property values, for citywide redevelopment. By widening its borders, the city can enlarge the redevelopment area and collect even more tax dollars that now go to the county.
A letter from the city attorney attempting to placate those concerns failed to move the county because state law does not allow the current City Council to encumber future council actions. Port Richey's revolving political door doesn't bolster confidence of promised stability, either.
Port Richey City Manager Ellen Posivach described the annexation as a years-long effort that predates her term as administrator. That, too, should raise concerns. Past administrations didn't always have public stewardship as their top concern. A prime example was the annexation of the Custom Commerce Center into Port Richey so the city could circumvent county building codes while it remodeled a portion of the strip center into a temporary City Hall.
Providing utility service to the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park shouldn't trigger such shenanigans nor should it require annexing the southern end of the park around Gulf View Square mall into the city limits. An interlocal agreement among the city, Pasco County and the state is more simplistic and should stave off the threats of legal challenges, ease concerns about ulterior motives and end the sentimental provincialism from the County Commission.
If it's truly a matter of cost benefit to the state — and by extension, all taxpayers — then forget the cumbersome annexation. The county should not object to Port Richey providing water and sewer service to the public facilities at the park. Likewise, if altruism is the sincere motivation for Port Richey, then let the city cut its 25 percent surcharge on rates billed to this non-municipal customer. After all, city residents are state taxpayers, too.