Forget Amendment 5 to the Florida Constitution. Port Richey has devised its own unpalatable tax swap. The city is taking money intended for redevelopment and plugging it into its general fund. In essence, it is paying the operating bills with dollars intended for capital improvements, code enforcement, community policing or other ways of boosting property values and improving the city's quality of life.
The budget-balancing strategy might be more understandable if the council majority hadn't already reduced city revenue $264,000 by eliminating its utility franchise fee. On one hand, the city is so flush with cash, it can do away with a legitimate tax on utility bills. On the other, now it must raid its redevelopment account of a half-million dollars to make ends meet without a property tax increase.
It is a ridiculous sleight of hand even if it is permissible under state law and illustrates yet again that Port Richey's redevelopment effort lacks any clear vision.
The money, as much as $940,000 in 2006, is generated by both city and county property taxes attributed to increased real estate values after 2002, the year Port Richey declared the entire city blighted and began its redevelopment program. The escalating tax payments drew previous attention from the county, which two years ago asked Port Richey and other cities for an accounting of their redevelopment expenditures.
At various times, Port Richey officials have shown a willingness to use redevelopment money to pursue permits to dredge canals abutting residential property, consider an overlay development district along its waterfront, or, most recently, bid for a vacant, dilapidated Port Richey Mobile Home Park on River Gulf Drive.
That idea died in January, but the council resurrected it this week, saying it will again try to acquire the 1.6-acre park for possible use as a site to store dredging spoils or even for a new City Hall. A new City Hall? They just cut the ribbon on the current building six years ago.
Ridding the city of blight is a legitimate redevelopment goal, but remember the words earlier this year of now-Vice Mayor Mark Hashim, who called buying the mobile home park with no plan for using the land "the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.''
If it was a bad idea then, we're not sure why it's okay now. Port Richey needs a redevelopment strategy beyond making ends meet or acquiring property for yet another municipal building.