New Port Richey
City leaders learned the financial outlook this budget season may not be as rosy as once thought, dashing hopes of throwing a nearly $1 million windfall at police, fire and redevelopment needs.
The City Council gathered for a work session earlier this week to discuss how to dole out $967,000 of previously restricted utility funding that could now be accessed for general spending. But a new report of an impending $700,000 budget deficit put the brakes on that.
The city faces shortfalls in anticipated collection of franchise fees, and the need to make up for unanticipated overtime costs for employees, increased police and fire pension costs, and increased health insurance costs, city finance director Doug Haag wrote in a report to council.
Haag also noted that next year the city faces a $907,000 subsidy of its bankrupt Community Redevelopment Agency and a $100,000 payment to Wayne and Susan Allen, who recently settled with the city over a zoning gaffe that cost them their home.
It was a blow to City Council member Bill Phillips, who upon learning of the utilities windfall three weeks ago had a spreadsheet outlining his hope for using the funds. His proposal included shoring up the city's reserves by $650,000, then spending $100,000 for police, $40,000 for the fire department, $40,000 for the library, $37,000 for the development department and $50,000 for a structural stabilization of the historic Hacienda Hotel.
Phillips called the news "disappointing," but said the council could still consider putting some money toward boosting police and stabilizing the Hacienda.
"My old adage is we're kicking the can down the road," he said.
Council member Chopper Davis agreed that the Hacienda should be addressed as soon as possible. He also agreed with Mayor Bob Consalvo and council member Jeff Starkey that Phillips' idea of beefing up police is a top priority.
"The biggest complaint I see is crime in the city," Consalvo said. "It's constant. Some of our folks are scared to live in their neighborhoods."
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Residents: Pave dirt roads, not brick ones
When it comes to paving over the city's brick roads, most residents responding to the annual citizen satisfaction survey are just saying no.
They do want to see more paving of dirt roads, job opportunities, enforcement of code violations, and more activities for teens. They also want to see more downtown restaurants open for dinner, and a few expressed dismay with a majority of city commissioners voting to give themselves raises.
The survey, in its third year, went out to 1,000 random households through utility bills early this year. Nearly 200 - or 19 percent - were returned, said City Manager Billy Poe as he presented the survey results at Tuesday's city commission meeting. Students studying public administration at the University of South Florida conduct the survey and compile the results.
Of those responding, about 52 percent said they are satisfied with city government. The police department received the highest marks, with a nearly 77 percent satisfaction ranking. Eighty-four percent believe cleaning up neighborhoods will boost the local housing market and 59.5 percent believe the city needs to improve its stormwater system - but only 29.5 percent are willing to pay a monthly fee to see it happen.
Poe said the survey is useful in giving city staff guidance on how to proceed with certain issues - such as paving brick streets - but commissioners wondered how complete a picture they're getting with such a low response rate. Some suggested conducting the survey online to get more feedback.
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City manager gets pay raise, $250
Citing an excellent performance his first year, the Port Richey City Council approved a 1 percent raise and a $250 one-time payout for City Manager Tom O'Neill.
The raise comes on the heels of a 1 percent raise to all of the city's employees in October, which O'Neill - who makes $94,456 in base salary and benefits - did not receive.
The council proposed giving O'Neill a 2.4 percent raise, which he declined in favor of what other employees had received, according to City Clerk Tammy Schuck. O'Neill's raise will be retroactive to Jan. 9, the one-year anniversary of his starting date, Schuck said.
Council member Terry Rowe cast the lone vote against the raise, saying it was too soon to give a raise after just one year on the job, when employees recently received their first raise in five years.
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Old City Hall building setto come down Wednesday
Demolition of the old City Hall is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning, shortly after city commissioners gather for photos in front of the Meridian Avenue building.
Barricades to protect nearby trees went up Thursday and workers will finish clearing out the building Monday and Tuesday, said City Manager Billy Poe. Cross Construction of Zephyrhills was awarded a $91,000 contract earlier this year to bring the building down. The company has 45 days to complete the work, but Poe said officials believe it should only take about three weeks.
Employees began moving offices out of the historic building last year, with some moving into an adjacent annex on Meridian Avenue and others into the train depot at the east end of Meridian.
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Job fair scheduled Thursday
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will host a job fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the east campus gym of Pasco-Hernando Community College, 36727 Blanton Road. More than 30 employers from fields including banking, law enforcement, education, retail, hospitality, technology, community services and healthcare, will be on hand. Job-seekers should dress professionally and come prepared with their resume. For information, contact Bilirakis' district office at (727) 232-2921 or visit www.bilirakis.house.gov.
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County is much cleaner
Pasco County shed nearly 20 tons of trash and debris this month thanks to the volunteers who participated in the Great American Cleanup, sponsored by Keep Pasco Beautiful. Despite the overcast skies, 423 volunteers came out April 20 in teams sprinkled across the county, from Baillie's Bluff to Crystal Springs Preserve, Moon Lake to Lacoochee. All told, the crews carted away 19.79 tons of debris.