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Council hearing tonight on repeal of bingo law

Port Richey City Council members will debate the first step in repealing the city's controversial bingo ordinance tonight.

Last month, a divided council voted 3-2 to draft an ordinance repealing the city's bingo law that has allowed commercial bingo back into Pasco County after 10 years in exile. The move came after residents, charities and state lawmakers complained, telling the council that commercial bingo would take money from legitimate charities in Pasco.

Port Richey ordinances require two public hearings, which means after tonight's meeting there will be another on March 25 if the repeal ordinance is approved.

Three council members _ Mayor Eloise Taylor, Phyllis Grae and Bill Bennett _ said they favored repealing the ordinance. Council member Dale Massad and Vice Mayor Pat Guttman said they opposed that.

Framing tonight's debate will be pressure from the Kolokithas family, the owners of a $1-million commercial bingo hall that opened in February. Mollie Kolokithas has said she'll sue the city to keep the hall open.

The council will also hear from City Attorney Paul Marino for the first time. Marino was out of town for the last meeting, when the council voted to repeal the ordinance Marino wrote.

Marino has been criticized by residents and council members for using information from Kolokithas family employee James Carter to draft the ordinance that allowed the family to open the hall. In a letter to the council, Marino defended himself, saying accusations that he gave bad legal advice are false.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Marino wrote.

Also on the agenda:

A presentation on an expansion of the city's water and wastewater system.

A discussion on using community redevelopment money on condemned houses in the city.

Consideration of bids on building a waterfront park fishing pier.

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. City Hall is at 6333 Ridge Road.

_ Matthew Waite covers Port Richey city government. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waitesptimes.com.

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