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Proposed merger would hurt Port Richey residents in long run

On Sunday, March 9, Times staff reporter Richard Verrier wrote an article with the headline "The dollars and cents of merging." We thank the St. Petersburg Times for the opportunity to respond. As chairman of the Committee to Preserve Port Richey, I have a duty and responsibility to clarify issues and to bring meaningful facts to the residents of Port Richey so an intelligent decision can be made on Election Day regarding the merger question.

Verrier's article was alarming in that certain facts were omitted in an attempt to show that residents of Port Richey could save $200 per year by merging with New Port Richey. The article's only consideration seemed to stress the money to be saved should the merger take place. That's just not how people go about determining where they want to live.

Using the same figures suggested by the article, the median home value in Port Richey was listed as $78,000 and in New Port Richey $51,800. Clearly the homes in the waterfront community of Port Richey are more upscale. After homestead exemption the taxable base would be $28,800 in New Port Richey and $53,000 in Port Richey. Since the current millage rate is 20 percent higher in New Port Richey, the additional cost to a Port Richey home owner would be $54.50. The owners of business property in Port Richey and folks living in trailer parks and others not entitled to homestead exemption will find themselves paying 20 percent more than they presently pay in real estate taxes.

According to the Pasco County Planning Department the average household consists of 2.25 people per household, and the average consumption of water in a household is 3,000 gallons per month. Therefore the difference in utility bills of the two cities is $175 per year. However, it must be pointed out that the Port Richey water treatment plant is considered one of the best for its size. Port Richey water is pumped directly through a green sand filtration system. New Port Richey does not have a filtration system and when it buys water, it is treated by using sodium hydroxide to control corrosion and increase the ph factor of the water.

Port Richey is getting ready to increase its water production from 60 to 85 percent in the next few months, which will lessen our dependence on purchasing water from New Port Richey. The impact of this will mean a $15 per year savings, thereby making the water and sewer differential $160. New Port Richey has a billing charge that Port Richey does not have, amounting to $15 per year, thereby lowering the differential to $145.

Deducting the higher New Port Richey tax rate of $54.50 from the $145 savings on utility bills, the net savings is $90.50 per year. A 1994 rate study by New Port Richey recommended that the city increase its user rates and charges every year. There was a rate increase of 11.5 percent in New Port Richey sewer bills to help pay off some new debt the city incurred. So where are we now?

In the area of property tax revenue, a rule of thumb is that structural deterioration of a city often results in decreased property tax revenue. The per capita value of property in Port Richey is higher than in New Port Richey. The deteriorated condition of housing units in Port Richey is less than one-half of one percent. This indicates that on average our city is clean, with new resurfaced streets and not much that has to be upgraded. Clearly a sign of good infrastructure.

On the other hand, a majority of the houses in New Port Richey are older, with lower property values. Its streets are in poorer condition and its deteriorated units far exceed those in Port Richey. This all adds up to Port Richey becoming a potential new taxing power base for New Port Richey. It seems clear that in the future a Port Richey home owner would eventually pay higher taxes if annexed into New Port Richey. Think about it. Our city is newer, all of our streets were recently resurfaced, we have a sewer system in place and an excellent water treatment plant, a new hike and bike trail will soon be built, and we are financially sound. Economically, why would we want to merge with New Port Richey?

It is not clear who will be responsible for the Port Richey bond indebtedness. The Florida Constitution, Article 8 Section 3, outlining Consolidation states "Consolidation shall not extend the territorial scope of taxation for the payment of pre-existing debt except to areas whose residents receive a benefit from the facility or service for which the indebtedness was incurred." A special taxing district may have to be created meaning the residents of Port Richey will remain liable for these old obligations and in addition pick up New Port Richey taxes. This is a gray area and not easily answered. It is unfair for others to comment on these items in such a carefree manner as to mislead or misinform the public.

Another area to be concerned about is the New Port Richey Telecommunication Tax. This is a 7 percent tax charged by New Port Richey on all local and toll telephone service, telegram, computer exchange services or private communication services. It also covers cellular phones, mobile radios, pagers, beepers, etc., 7 percent of your monthly bill. Port Richey has no such ordinance.

Finally, let's set the record straight. Port Richey critic John King has filed a letter of intent but has not filed a lawsuit against the city of Port Richey for $6-million or even 6 cents. At the present time there are no lawsuits of any consequence pending against the city of Port Richey. Can New Port Richey say the same?

The question of merger is before the people of Port Richey. Only the residents can decide their fate, what they want this city to be and how they want to spend their future. Looking at the bottom line, there really isn't any monetary savings, and in the long run, it probably will cost us more. There are sufficient reasons for the residents of Port Richey to rise up in anger over those who would like to steal our city. The Committee to Preserve the city of Port Richey is a grass roots group of your friends and neighbors. We suggest you vote NO on the proposed merger.

_ Lawrence Applefield is chairman of Citizens Committee to Preserve Port Richey. Guest columnists write their own views, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.