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Finances are not only issue in merger

Like most men, I watch several television programs at the same time, via the magic of remote control. Which explains why I came to be watching the Port Richey City Council meeting the other night.

During a break in the basketball game, I switched to a local access cable channel just in time to see the back of a man telling council members that "Mr. Stevens" was the first editor at the Times to conspire to take over Port Richey, and then he turned it over to "Mr. Hackett."

This was especially amusing to my wife as she passed through the living room.

"Your team losing?" she asked, wondering why I was watching a council meeting that seemed unattended, judging from all the empty chairs in the picture.

Coincidentally, this was the second time in a day that I had heard somebody express a false assumption regarding me or the Times and Port Richey.

Earlier, council member Eileen Ferdinand said that we favored the proposed annexation of the small city by neighboring New Port Richey. Dave Hackett, the editor of editorials, told her that we have yet to take a position.

It is easy enough to understand why Port Richey officials have come to this conclusion, however.

For many years, we have written editorials critical of activities at Port Richey City Hall. And we have been equally pointed in remarks regarding the council's recent efforts to head off the annexation by distorting the financial picture of both cities and agreeing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to mount a propaganda and lobbying effort to keep their city.

The fact is, I can understand why they are acting this way. If they are annexed into New Port Richey, they lose their jobs.

But that's only part of it.

It is only natural to fight for your territory, and plenty of Port Richey folks want their elected leaders to do whatever it takes to preserve this city, which has been around since 1925. Port Richey may be Toonerville with startling regularity, but that doesn't mean it is devoid of pride.

But call it what it is. The notion that Port Richey is apt to spend $75,000 so voters can be educated on the pros and cons of annexation by the April 8 election is nonsense. Statistics and legal interpretations will be manipulated to support the arguments, not to educate voters.

It would make perfect sense for the two cities to share the cost of an independent assessment of a merger.

My guess is that such an assessment would show that the wisdom of a merger, from the standpoint that one fairly large city would enjoy more political clout than two small ones. And it seems obvious that there would be savings to taxpayers through consolidation of services and departments.

But that isn't what is likely to drive this debate, folks. Independence is a precious thing, and people don't often give it up without a fight.

New Port Richey's government is far superior to Port Richey's, and it has been for decades. If efficiency and bureaucratic competence were the only issue here, there would be no contest.

It is more complicated than that. It is more complicated than dollars and cents. It is about history and independence, power and control.

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