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Council okays $3.6-million drainage program

It will cost the people of New Port Richey more than $3.6-million, and it will take a decade or more, but the city is determined to stop its flooding problems.

The New Port Richey City Council made it official Tuesday night.

"Contrary to the belief of several residents, we do have a problem with drainage in the city," Council member Wendy Brenner said. "And I think if we do get started on this now, it will be less expensive than if we wait until the future."

While council members unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday approving the $3.6-million stormwater drainage program, they haven't figured out how to pay for the improvements.

They won't do that until early next year, after holding public hearings and querying city residents about the best way to do it.

Funding options include issuing bonds, raising property taxes or levying so-called user fees, a type of tax, on all city property owners, said City Manager Gerald Seeber.

One preliminary study by a city consultant estimates that the city would have to charge each property owner between $36 and $39 a year in user fees to pay for the improvements.

"No matter how you cut it, the citizens of the city are going to be taxed," resident Ron Ryner told city council members. "There's no free lunch. We in the city are going to have to pay for it."

The stormwater drainage program, which calls for improvements in three downtown areas, is one of the biggest the city has pursued. By comparison, the city has budgeted only about $1.7-million for water and sewer construction in the current fiscal year.

Specifically, the program calls for improvements to be made to the area around Main Street, Missouri Avenue and Grand Boulevard, near City Hall; Madison and Massachusetts avenues, and the Jasmine Heights subdivision near Marine Parkway.

The city is required under its state-mandated comprehensive growth management plan to develop better stormwater drainage programs, said Tom O'Neill, the city's public works director. Also, the state eventually might force the city to address environmental problems that come with stormwater draining directly into the Pithlachascotee River.

New Port Richey residents who have put up with flooded streets and yards for years also have lobbied the city for better drainage.

"This is not going to be cheap," Mayor Debra Prewitt said. "But at least we're taking a pro-active step at doing something to address this problem."

In other action Tuesday, the City Council approved a business incentive program that will offer businesses moving downtown up to $500 in credits toward fees like building permits and occupational licenses. Businesses must match any money they receive. Only $5,000 is to be earmarked for the program during the city's 1992-93 fiscal year.

Also, council members approved an ordinance that requires city approval for any park benches placed within the city limits. The ordinance is aimed at limiting the number of advertising-type benches that clutter the city's roadsides, council members said.

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