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Dissolving can wait for Port Richey

(ran PW, PS editions)

Organizers of a petition to dissolve the city said Friday that they will seek a referendum vote in August, not April as first planned.

Extending the timeline _ assuming the petition is valid _ would provide more time to educate Port Richey residents about the benefits of dissolution, said Charles Boyer, one of five committee members.

"This is not something we want to stampede," Boyer said.

The committee said it needs nearly 200 signatures, or 10 percent of registered voters, for a referendum. In the past week, according to Boyer, about 170 people have signed petitions. "It's been very positive."

Meanwhile, city officials continue to doubt the validity of the petition. City Attorney Paul Marino said the group might have to follow procedures in addition to those under the City Charter, but needs to explore state law before knowning for sure. He will seek an opinion from the state Attorney General's office.

"I'm still researching this," Marino said.

The committee at first wanted to place the issue before voters on April 13, the same time as City Council elections. Now the Aug. 31 primary election ballot is targeted.

In making the pitch for dissolution of the city, which was incorporated in 1925, proponents point to additional taxes and service fees residents must pay.

A flier being distributed to Port Richey homes states that the number of city employees has grown in the past 10 years while the population has inched along. It mentions recent increases in water rates, and predicts repairs to aging water and sewer lines will cost millions.

Proponents also say response time from the Sheriff's Office would be as good as city residents have gotten from the Port Richey police.

Some pro-city forces, including those backing a petition to save the police dispatch center, note that some of the people behind the dissolution petition have had run-ins with the city's police department.

"They are the same people," said Jim Priest, who is spearheading the dispatch referendum. He and others note that Boyer's adult daughter, Deborah Clark, was arrested on a charge of resisting without violence after a city police officer cited her for a parking violation on Labor Day.

Boyer said any suggestion his motivation is based on that incident is "totally false," adding that he was approached by other committee members because he has not been involved in city politics.

"This is strictly a business decision," he said, referencing the dual taxation and other financial matters outlined by the committee. "The city is too small with (about) 3,000 residents to support an independent police department and city government."

_ Alex Leary covers the city of Port Richey. 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 learysptimes.com.

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