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Consider future of Port Richey

The city of Port Richey should debate the merits of dissolving as thoroughly as its City Council debates just the idea of asking people whether to retain the municipal government.

For the third time in five weeks, Port Richey's council is scheduled to consider whether to hold a straw poll in April on disbanding the city.

An initial 5-0 decision to draw up the ballot language was reversed a week later in a special meeting on a 3-2 vote. Now, council member Dale Massad, who was on the losing end of the second vote, is asking for reconsideration at this evening's meeting.

Massad said he put the matter on the agenda again because he said the previous vote was based on inaccurate information. Mayor Mark Abbot and council members Phyllis Grae and Nancy Britton talked of the Right to Vote political action committee failing to provide valid petitions to the city.

In 2004, a group presented 300 signatures requesting the referendum, but two city attorneys rejected the petitions as legally insufficient. The City Charter allows for ordinances to be considered in a voter referendum with petitions containing 10 percent of the registered voters, or just fewer than 200 signatures.

"The PAC feels stonewalled and I don't blame them,'' Massad said via e-mail.

However, a potential council request for its newest city attorney to review the petitions is problematic. And for that, Massad shares the blame. He and the council, with Britton abstaining, hired her live-in boyfriend as the city attorney.

It exemplifies the amateurish governing that has dominated Port Richey's political decision-making for decades and legitimizes a push to disband the municipality.

The political action committee bases its arguments on cost. The members believe city services do not offset the higher municipal taxes.

Grae counters that the city property owners would need to absorb a $5.8-million debt, attributed to the construction of City Hall and a utility system, before the government could disband.

Both arguments are worthy of public debate, as are considerations of public safety response time, utility costs, franchise fees and local control. The discussions shouldn't be stymied by three people.

The council majority has flip-flopped before. It should do so again and allow for a full public dialogue on the merits of retaining Port Richey's municipal government.

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