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New Port Richey should reform mobile home deal

New Port Richey has earned a reputation as a caring and progressive city. Residents have gotten together to build an impressive playground downtown. City officials have built libraries and parks and are working to build a hands-on science museum. Tonight the City Council has invited Habitat for Humanity representatives to discuss building homes for low-income people. But city officials may be carrying this altruistic bent a tad far when it comes to the Municipal Mobile Home Park, the 79-unit park that has occupied four city-owned acres near the police station for more than 50 years.

No matter what face is painted on it, the park amounts to nothing more than highly subsidized public housing.

For a measly $50 a month, residents get lot rent, city sewer service, water service, trash removal, yard lights, maintenance on their recreation building, street improvements ($20,000 has been budgeted for repairs), lawn mowing on common areas, an on-site manager and all property taxes paid.

Similar services in nearby mobile parks cost $165 to $225 a month.

It is doubtful if all _ or if any, for that matter _ of the people living at Municipal Park actually could qualify for low-income, subsidized government housing. In fact, the number of homes not occupied in summer months indicates that some residents own at least two homes, and the automobiles in the driveways are mainly late-model and upscale, signs that occupants are relatively prosperous.

That makes it difficult to justify the incredible bargain on lot rental the residents are getting through the benevolence _ or perhaps timidity _ of city officials.

The Municipal Park arrangement obviously is unfair. It forces other New Port Richey residents to indirectly subsidize people who may or may not be deserving of such help. It deprives the city of valuable taxable property. If, for example, 40 condominiums with a taxable value of, say, $75,000 were built on the property, as allowed by the comprehensive growth plan, the city would collect $10,500 in taxes, even if all the homes received a homestead exemption. As it is, the city pays about $9,000 in taxes on the property to other taxing entities _ to say nothing of other expenses not itemized.

City officials are wise to have directed city staff to see what can be done to put an end to this cushy arrangement. Changing the agreement between the park residents and the city is the key first step.

The simplest solution might end up being what council member Debra Prewitt suggested _ sell the lots to the mobile home owners. That way, the city could start collecting taxes and franchise fees from the owners instead of paying them. The homeowners would have to take over maintenance and manager fees.

Residents genuinely in need could apply for an abatement. New tenants could apply for similar subsidies.

It also could turn out that the best course would be to phase out the mobile home park through attrition. No new homes would be allowed onto the property, and existing homes would be demolished once they get beyond repair.

This could be a long-term proposition, but it would result in the city having four valuable acres some time down the road.

The most immediate change _ as some park residents already have recognized _ is to increase lot rental to be more realistic in today's market. The $10-a-month increase suggested a time back is trifling; the increase should reflect reality. A three-year, incremental increase will soften the impact.

The Municipal Mobile Home Park problem has vexed the city for years.

This time, we can only hope that city officials will show the courage to stick with a reform plan. It is the only sensible and equitable course to take.

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