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Port Richey's redevelopment grants need narrower focus

Redevelopment continues to become more personal in two west Pasco cities. The big ticket items remain works in nonprogress. There are stalled waterfront and dredging proposals in Port Richey and similarly slow, if any, movement for the Main Street Landings, Hacienda Hotel and the First Baptist Church/Orange Lake projects in downtown New Port Richey. But, in both cities, individual property owners are availing themselves to small-scale grants for what is amounting to large scale investments within the municipalities.

New Port Richey began its program in 2001 and has awarded 1,245 grants worth $2 million over the past eight years. It has brought an additional $11.6 million of investing from property owners to improve their homes and businesses. Money is available for painting, reconstruction, new facades, signs and commercial interiors. It has been so successful the city had to tweak the program 16 months ago to narrow the focus and ensure sufficient dollars remained available.

It is a worthwhile effort that allows residents and small-business owners to buy into the citywide, long-term redevelopment. The grant money produces immediate and tangible benefits: more appealing aesthetics and improved property values. Increased real estate tax revenue attributed to higher property values remains in the city's redevelopment fund.

Port Richey started a similar venture in October and so far 14 projects have received a little more than $49,000 in redevelopment grants bringing $84,000 in additional private-sector investing. Two more applications are pending. Property owners have used the money for new roofs, doors, windows, gutters, exterior paint and one brought an air conditioner up to code.

But there is a distinction between the two cities' programs. New Port Richey caps the appraised value of a home that can receive a fix-up grant at $125,000. It also does not allow grant money to be used for ornamental purposes.

Port Richey's program includes no value limit — every owner-occupied property is eligible. It means even the owners of high-end, water-front homes can use the grants, the original intent of which was to eliminate blight. Likewise, Port Richey grants can be used to install new driveways, considered an ornamental use in New Port Richey. A new driveway might bring better curb appeal, but it only adds nominally to a property's assessed value. As their counterparts did in New Port Richey, Port Richey Council members should consider serving the public better be narrowing the list of projects eligible for grant funding.

At least one Port Richey Council member believes the program does need adjusting. Council member Phil Abts suggested capping the value of the homes that can participate and perhaps boosting the grants above a 50 percent match for the less-valuable, owner-occupied homes in the city. They are ideas worth exploring.

Port Richey is on pace to exhaust its $150,000 grant program by the end of the fiscal year. It bodes well that the financial assistance has allowed people to invest in their property even during a recession. But the program's original motive — cleaning up blight — can be better met by targeting lower-valued buildings and by focusing on a home's structure, not its driveway.

Port Richey's redevelopment grants need narrower focus 02/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 6:01pm]
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