The Port Richey City Council is correct to reinstitute a franchise fee on electricity, a tax abandoned two years ago amid rhetoric about giving a break to residents that was never balanced by a corresponding reduction in city spending.
The result in 2008 was a near immediate raid on the city's bricks and mortar account —the Community Redevelopment Fund financed by property taxes that is supposed to pay for infrastructure upgrades and to remove blight citywide. Instead, it simply paid the bills. A month after forgoing $264,000 in utility tax receipts, the council had to grab $524,000 in redevelopment dollars to balance its budget.
The architects of that cash swap are no longer in office and the current council — with only Richard Rober and Steven O'Neil remaining from 2008 — are smart to try to right the city's finances.
Both opposed the tax cut two years ago. With good reason. At the time, the stated altruism failed to identity the biggest beneficiaries: 24-hour retailers and other round-the-clock operations, not homeowners who already had pushed up the thermostat and dimmed the lights to try to conserve energy.
Under state law, local governments can assess franchise fees on private utilities using public rights of way. The current council simply is bringing Port Richey's revenue sources back in line with other municipalities.
A majority of city voters have indicated multiple times a preference for remaining a municipal government. Providing services for 3,000 residents doesn't come cheaply and residents must be prepared to foot the bill for their choices. Paying a 10 percent tax on their power bill is one of the logical consequences.
Likewise, the council's work is not done. With the franchise fee back in place, it is incumbent on the council to ensure the focus of Community Redevelopment money is improving the city's tax base, not paying the overhead.