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Alas for taxpayers, common sense is priceless

Port Richey taxpayers need not ask the City Council how much it will cost to pay lobbyists and publish anti-merger propaganda. As far as council members are concerned, if they have to ask, they can't afford it.

Demonstrating once again a debilitating shortage of good judgment, the council agreed to spend an unlimited sum on a campaign to defeat its own measure on the April 8 ballot, which essentially asks voters whether they want to explore the possibility of a merger with New Port Richey.

If the council's objective all along was to defeat its own initiative, it could have done so more cheaply and effectively by leaving it off the ballot in the first place. Nothing requires a merger vote in April.

The council's actions don't make sense, but not much does at City Hall these days. City Manager Vince Lupo recently suggested, for example, that the city's waterfront district could qualify as an official, federally designated "slum" for the purpose of obtaining a community redevelopment grant. This week, however, he said it might be necessary to spend $75,000 or more to persuade state lawmakers and local voters that Port Richey and the blighted waterfront are far too important and outstanding to fall to New Port Richey.

With so much confusion, it's no wonder Port Richey has been the subject of bad publicity. Council members are understandably frustrated by it all. So what do they do? Offend local taxpayers by writing a blank check for the purpose, they say, of telling "the truth" about the merger.

Truth, however, is a relative thing at City Hall, especially since state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, proposed a bill to schedule merger referendums in both cities next fall.

A few months ago, Port Richey officials said they were in possession of a voter petition that reflected overwhelming public opposition to a merger. As it turned out, the petition was bogus. Port Richey leaders also suggested that New Port Richey was on the verge of a fiscal crisis and that officials in that city were conspiring behind the scenes to arrange a merger in order to get at the smaller city's cash reserve. That also is untrue.

Port Richey officials distorted their own financial picture and ascribed corrupt motives, based on far-fetched conspiracy theories, to everyone from Latvala to newspaper reporters and columnists. None that is true either, but it looks as though Port Richey residents are about to pay for more anyway.

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