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City okays $24.5-million budget plan

(ran PW, PS editions)

If approved at a public meeting, New Port Richey's $24.5-million budget would raise property taxes slightly and offset a $230,000 shortfall.

The City Council tentatively approved a new $24.5-million budget that raises the city's tax rate slightly, and saves the jobs of several city employees.

The budget however, isn't perfect. It's $540,000 less than the city spent last year, and eliminates two vacant city jobs, and cuts back the hours of some other part-time workers.

The City Council voted 4-1 on Wednesday to raise the tax rate slightly to 6.25 mills, up from 6 mills a year ago. A mill produces $1 in tax per $1,000 of taxable property value. The increase will raise the tax bill of a $75,000 home (with a $25,000 homestead exemption) by $12.50 to $312.50 a year. Council member Tom Finn cast the lone dissenting vote.

The city has been wrestling with a $230,000 budget shortfall. Previously, council members had considered raising taxes and laying off members of the police and fire departments to help cover the loss. Those jobs are now secure, although part-time workers in the city's Public Works Department, the library and at the city pool will see their hours cut back, said City Manager Gerald Seeber.

The council still must meet again Sept. 25 to formally adopt the budget and tax increase.

"We're on our way to resolving the problem," council member Jack Van Keuren said. "The city manager certainly has trimmed everything down to the bare minimum."

At a late-running workshop Tuesday, the City Council granted preliminary approval for six special downtown events and three other cultural activities over the next year:

+ $3,000 to the New Port Richey Community Cooperative for six Downtown French Market days. Each Saturday morning starting next month, organizers will turn downtown into an open-air market, with vendors selling produce, food and antiques. The event will be held the last Saturday of each month, beginning in October and running through April, except March.

+ $5,000 for the cooperative's annual Founder's Day Celebration featuring a country western concert, a fishing tournament and fish fry. Oct. 28-29.

+ $3,000 for the cooperative's annual Christmas Festival including a parade of historic homes, a boat parade and downtown decorations. Dec. 1-3 and 7-10.

+ $5,000 for the cooperative's new two-day seafood festival and boat show that will include a nautical craft fair and live music. May 12-13.

+ $5,000 for the cooperative's Independence Day celebration featuring a battle of the bands, a photo contest and fireworks. July 1.

+ $1,500 for a new cooperative event called One Hot Summer Night, billed as a "Key West Sunset Celebration" featuring street performers, music and food vendors. Aug. 17.

+ $750 for the West Pasco African-American Club's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 13.

+ $2,500 for a two-day cooperative fine art show and contest called For the Love of Art, a revival of the defunct March on Art. Feb. 10-11.

+ $5,000 for a new Chasco Fiesta Native American Dance Competition, a new event, that will include a craft fare and educational programs. March 22 through April 1.

The City Council kept about $13,000 in the special fund that pays for the events in case any other community groups come forward with ideas for downtown projects this year. The list of events still must be approved by the Council at a regular public meeting.

_ Kent Fischer can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischersptimes.com.

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