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New Port Richey

Illegal dumping has gotten so bad that the City Council has approved the first reading of an ordinance change that would dramatically increase the fine for violators.

For years, the city has hit people caught illegally dumping with a $30 fine. It's a punishment with no teeth, police Chief Kim Bogart told council members Tuesday.

Bogart asked the council to consider a $500 fine for violators to help curb the problem, especially the dumping of landscape material such as tree debris, he said. The council unanimously gave initial approval to the $500 fine.

It was a welcome idea for council member Jeff Starkey, who said he frequently sees illegally dumped debris around his neighborhood off U.S. 19.

"I can't tell you how important this is," he said.

Fixing Hacienda Hotel has $2 million price tag

The cost to repair years of neglect of the historic Hacienda Hotel may end up costing nearly as much as the city paid for the landmark.

On Tuesday, the City Council received a $27,000 structural assessment report from the engineering firm McKim & Creed that outlined the scope of renovations needed for the hotel on Main Street, in the heart of downtown. The bad news: a price tag of up to $2 million to bring the building up to code.

The report told of termite damage, water damage from a leaky roof, aging infrastructure, and fire protection issues. For Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips, the news was not unexpected but still disappointing. He said a "lack of leadership" over the years is to blame. New Port Richey bought the hotel in 2004 for more than $2 million.

Phillips also warned that the report is just an initial view of the problems with the building, as the city will need to dig deeper upon renovating.

"I think the more you peel back this onion you are going to cry even more," Phillips said.

City Council member Jeff Starkey tried to quantify how bad the condition of the Hacienda is by asking McKim officials to put it on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst. They put it at a seven.

City staff will next present options to the council on the cost of hiring pest control and roof stabilization experts. Fire officials will also be assessing fire protection needs for the building.

But there wasn't only bad news about the Hacienda. City economic development director Mario Iezzoni told the board that the two firms interested in redeveloping the hotel - Florida Motel Inc., of Yulee and Birmingham, Ala., firm Legacy Lodging LLC - were not scared off by the report.

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No charges for issuing fake high school diploma

A woman accused of issuing a worthless high school diploma with an unauthorized signature of Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning will not face criminal charges.

"None of the victims of this case at this moment want to press charges," Pasco sheriff's Detective Bruce Cohen said.

The family whose daughter received the document from Nina Duffield, whose name appeared on it as principal of CHS Inc. High School, was willing to walk away if Duffield would reimburse them the $1,000 paid for private schooling and a diploma, Cohen said.

"Mrs. Duffield has agreed to do that," he said.

Browning separately said he would not pursue any action against the woman who misused his signature and falsified a district document if she agreed not to do it again.

"Apparently she has given (Cohen) assurances that she won't," Browning said, adding that district lawyers would send a cease and desist letter as well. "I am satisfied that the matter is closed."

If he learns of a repeat, he added, "I'm not going to be as nice the next time."

Cohen said Duffield told him she was "out of the business" of private education and would not issue any more diplomas. She previously had operated Country Home School Inc., which officially had not been in business for several years, according to state records. Once the family receives its repayment from Duffield, he said, he plans to officially close the investigation.

The situation arose in early March, when Browning contacted the Sheriff's Office after he received a copy of a student's diploma from CHS Inc. High School that included his signature and purported to be issued by the county School Board. The county has no such high school.

The student discovered the diploma carried no weight when she tried to enroll in a culinary arts program at the Art Institute of Tampa. Program officials told her she needed to provide proof of graduation from a "legitimate" school.

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New Port Richey

Lighthouse Easter event planned for Saturday

The Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind Easter egg hunt and picnic is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at The Lion's Den, 8320 Plathe Road, New Port Richey.

The picnic and hunt are sponsored by the New Port Richey Cotee River Lions Club and the Cotee River Leo Club, and is for children who have visual impairments and their families.

The event features games, crafts and the egg hunt with beeping Easter eggs to give visually impaired and blind children the chance to enjoy a recreational activity they otherwise might miss.

The hunt starts at 11 a.m. For information, call Sylvia Perez at (727) 815-0303 or email

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Mike Wells Jr. running for commission seat

Mike Wells Jr., the son of Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells, announced Friday he is running for the County Commission seat currently held by Republican Henry Wilson.

He's running in District 4 in West Central Pasco. The district generally runs north of State Road 54 and south of State Road 52, and includes parts of New Port Richey and Land O' Lakes.

Wells, like his father, is running as a Republican, which ensures a GOP primary election Aug. 26.

Wells is a first-time candidate. Wilson is seeking his first re-election after defeating incumbent Michael Cox, then the commission's only Democrat, four years ago.

Wells, 42, is a former manager at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and currently works as a Realtor at Coldwell Banker F.I. Grey & Son in New Port Richey. He is married to Tiffany Wells, 39. They have one son, Cole, 12.

Wells said he got a taste for politics while a youngster watching his father at County Commission meetings in the 1980s.

"This is something I've wanted to do for a while," he said of his candidacy. "I was born in St. Pete, so I'm a native Floridian, and I've lived in Pasco since I was 8 years old. I love the county and I just wanted to be able to get involved in the county."

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