Almost a decade into its redevelopment effort, the city of Port Richey faces a shrinking financial bonanza amid an expanding list of deteriorating public property. Unlike New Port Richey, its neighbor to the south, Port Richey, for the most part, is not hampered by costly real estate speculating that failed to generate new private investing in the city. But Port Richey also has no splashy public asset to show for its efforts. New Port Richey can at least point to its $14 million aquatic and recreational center as a significant quality-of-life enhancement for its residents.
Port Richey's problems are twofold: a leadership void from the revolving door at City Hall, where city managers and council members frequently are short-timers, and the council's long-time fixation on dredging residential canals that has drained more than $1 million from the city with no resolution in sight.
Meanwhile, past councils have made some dubious decisions in spending the redevelopment money. The city acquired a dilapidated and vacant mobile home park with no long-term plan on how to make use of the cleared property. It financed fix-up grants to homeowners, but didn't cap the value of the property to be improved — effectively allowing money intended to end blight to be used to maintain high-end homes. And three years ago it used the community redevelopment money to plug its general fund budget.
This week, the Port Richey City Council, sitting as its Community Redevelopment Agency, heard a laundry list of needs: an unsafe city pier closed to the public, a fire station in need of refurbishing and neglected rest rooms in the city's parks. And the bleak report came simultaneously with shrinking property values that are reducing the annual deposits in the CRA account.
This year's check from Pasco County to the city will be less than $412,000, down from $940,000 just five years ago. Community redevelopment is financed with the portion of city and county property taxes attributed exclusively to higher real estate values within the city. The city's current tax base is $240 million, up from $172 million when the city declared itself blighted in March 2002.
Since the program started, Port Richey has received $5.2 million in county property taxes, but has little to show for it. That needs to change, and the dithering over the canal dredging must end. The council must assemble and present accurate cost information to the public and schedule a referendum on a proposed taxing unit to pay for the multimillion-dollar project, or it must abandon the effort as an extravagance the city's homeowners cannot afford. Doing nothing is unacceptable.
Redeveloping the city of Port Richey means more than trying to appease waterfront homeowners unwilling to foot the bill for better access to the gulf. It should mean an enhanced commercial waterfront district north of the Pithlachascotee River and west of U.S. 19; pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly paths; better parks; and adequate public safety and code enforcement to enhance neighborhoods.
It is an opportune time to make progress. The council just hired Tom O'Neil as its city manager, and Mayor Richard Rober is pushing for a final decision on the dredging. O'Neil, the former public works director and city manager in New Port Richey, comes with a reputation for getting things done.
Broadening Port Richey's redevelopment focus should be at the top of the list.