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Shuffleboard Club was denied chance to explain

Editor: We received an eviction notice from the city of New Port Richey to vacate our Grand Boulevard Tourist and Shuffleboard Club site on Oct. 31 and to turn the keys in to the finance director at City Hall.

If I said the members are devastated, it would not convey our heavy hearts. For over 65 years, the club has faithfully welcomed tourists and made them feel a part of our city, providing them with entertainment and fellowship.

We have participated in civic activities donating to various local charities, the police and firefighter organizations and provided scholarships to deserving students at Gulf High School.

The club membership has built and supported the present clubhouse and shuffleboard courts themselves without a penny of city tax dollars.

At the Aug. 15 council meeting, Mayor Wendy Brenner advised that the city would meet the club's board to work on a short-term lease. Instead of a meeting, we received the eviction notice.

The club members and I were dismayed by the discussion of the council members at the Aug. 15 meeting in which they stated that by not renewing the club's lease and selling the property, the city would realize an estimated $650 in annual property taxes. We never had the opportunity to offer to pay $100 a month rent or $1,200 a year. What is the real motive of this City Council? That they want only the young and trendy in their downtown?

Mayor Brenner invited the club members to attend the twice a month council meeting. But, when council member Ginny Miller left a message on a member's answering machine Aug. 11, she stated she had reviewed the materials we had given her and she had not changed her mind. She stated she had discussed the club with other council members and "it was a done deal," further advising we should be looking for another location. When we attended the Aug. 15 meeting, we were aghast to learn the council had met the week before and discussed the termination of our lease without any notice to the club to attend and participate in the discussion. Further, we were accused and chastised for not providing the council with the materials the city had requested. These materials were delivered to council member Miller and she failed to share them with the city staff who would have provided the information to other council members prior to the meeting.

We have been vilified for not paying assessment charges, but the city did not bill the club. How do these things get past the city staff? We paid the assessments as soon as we were notified by the city. Peculiar how the city can find us when they want us to move, but didn't bother to look for us for years to pay the assessments.

We are grateful to our local supporters who have come forward with their concern and warmth for the situation we find ourselves in with the city. Some were afraid to sign our petition for fear of reprisal from City Hall. This is of great concern to our membership. Certainly it should be of great concern to the residents of New Port Richey.

The City Council has a personal agenda that does not include the wishes of the people. We were promised meetings that never materialized. We were promised the opportunity to work out an amiable solution and instead all we received was an eviction notice.

Do the residents really want us senior citizens thrown out and denied access to our own clubhouse and shuffleboard courts?

Betty J. Seydell

New Port Richey

Raises eating up city's budget

Editor: About the most unpleasant thing I have learned as a New Port Richey Council member is the realization of the gloomy times ahead in our city's general fund. The second worst thing is that my fellow council members (except Scott Chittum) appear unwilling to aggressively address the problem. Last year, I was too new and ignorant to comprehend this involute trend. Maybe that's their problem. Maybe it's the threats we received last month, warning us if a single union member was fired that the rest would never forget it, not even after we left office.

In the last four years, union negotiations have achieved a 21.1 percent increase in salaries compared to an 8.6 percent rise in the cost of living. That means raises have increased 245 percent over inflation. In millage terms, it would take 2.5 mills of property tax to pay just for those raises. In dollars, the accumulative total this year for just those raises is about $1-million, or about double the amount our property taxes have grown those four years. The accumulative payout of four years of raises equal approximately $2.5-million over 1996 pay scales and have consumed our undesignated reserve. This year not one dollar of general fund money will be spent on brick and mortar projects.

Every single penny will go to labor, but it still will not be enough. Even facilitating a few less people on the payroll, the council majority has voted to raise the tax rate a quarter mill. An next year, without changes, we will need another three-quarter mill just to pay labor and stay afloat.

The last two sitting councils, before I came on board, saw fit to alter our city code and reduce our reserve fund to pay for this labor increase. While doing so, it was magically able to leave the millage rate unchanged, except for the quarter mill in 1998, while we quickly depleted our bank account, simultaneously depriving the general fund of interest income of over $100,000. This year reserves will be exhausted. We must run the city like our own homes and no one can indefinitely spend more than they generate.

I want some portion of my hard earned tax dollars to go to improving the community and not just to maintaining salaries. Unless a major annexation and expansion of our tax base can occur, we need to reduce our work force. Over 60 percent of the current budget's $9.5-million go to pay public safety payrolls and benefits. The cold bottom line is that more people have been hired than our present growth rate can support. Unchecked, each year our deficit would balloon. Adjustments need to be made in many departments including public safety.

Recently, at our third budget workshop, council heard from about eight people who unanimously said don't cut labor, raise taxes. One was a union leader who lives in Clearwater. One, an ex-fire chief. One is married to the present chief. One lives beside the chief. One works for the state fire investigation division. Half of them do not pay New Port Richey taxes and some of them will receive raises that will pay their entire tax bill. The same crew wages a letter writing blitz urging to vote the rascals out. That's one way to deal with us who are onto them.

The head of the PBA circulated a memo that insulted the entire City Council. A telephone campaign tried to influence our vote. (Only 8 percent of the city work force are city residents.) Shame on all these individuals, for they have obviously forgotten who we all answer to: the taxpayers of this city. Greed has clouded their vision.

No one liked my simple suggestion _ a one-year moratorium on wage increases and hiring. That could have bought a year to address the problem with no one fired and no tax increase. Our work force could have been reduced by attrition. No one volunteered to work for the same dollars over the next year and save their friends' jobs. The council majority gave in and passed the buck to the soon to be poorer unrepresented taxpayer.

Tom Finn

New Port Richey City Council member