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New Port Richey budget windfall: Easy come, easy go

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 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."