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Opponents of police cuts hold protest

(ran PW, PS editions)

Upset over proposed cuts to the Police Department, a group of sign-waving residents took their fight directly to the City Council on Tuesday evening, staging a demonstration outside City Hall.

"We're hoping they get the message that the city wants its Police Department intact. We don't want just parts of it," said Jim Priest, a resident circulating a petition demanding the council majority back away from the cuts.

As Priest spoke, a handful of residents held signs that read "Save our Police." A few waved to motorists on Ridge Road.

More than 200 names have been collected so far, and the petitions will be given to the council later this month, Priest said.

If the council does not retreat, the petition warns of an attempt to dissolve the municipality of Port Richey, incorporated in 1925.

The controversy began June 24, when council members Phyllis Grae, Pat Guttman and Dale Massad voted to direct the city administration to begin to implement recommendations in a consultant's analysis of the department.

At an estimated savings of $156,000 from the current $1.1-million police budget, the report suggested cutting a police officer, the lone detective position and the dispatch center.

The consultant stopped short of advocating the elimination of the entire department and contracting law enforcement services from an outside agency.

Before entering City Hall, council member Dale Massad chatted briefly with the demonstrators. He was unimpressed.

"A lot of people who don't want all the police services aren't going to say anything," he said. "They are afraid."

Massad said the depth of the proposed cuts has been exaggerated by supporters of the department. "We're not trying to get rid of the police. We're trying to make the budget palatable," he said.

Many of the demonstrators were from Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village. They say they are most worried about the elimination of dispatch services. If the city contracts from the Sheriff's Office or New Port Richey, they say, the response time could be slower.

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