New Port Richey nearing contract with Main Street group

Published Jan. 24, 2013

NEW PORT RICHEY — It's four months into the fiscal year, and the city still doesn't have a contract with Greater New Port Richey Main Street.

Officials point to unforeseen events — the abrupt departure of the city manager and the sudden illness of Main Street's executive director — and say they're working now to get a contract on track.

At a work session Tuesday evening, interim City Manager Susan Dillinger presented the City Council with a proposed contract with the nonprofit group, which works to promote the downtown area by hosting events and helping businesses. Officials noted the city has already paid Main Street the $10,000 it had budgeted for the organization this fiscal year.

Dillinger, who has been running the city since City Manager John Schneiger resigned last fall, told the Times in an email that the "contract should have been done in September when the budget was being finalized. As I have been going through things since my appointment I found that it had not been done."

Beth Fregger, executive director of Main Street, told the Times she is thankful for the city's support during her illness. She was hospitalized and underwent surgery in November for a spinal cord infection. Still recovering, Fregger said she was happy to appear before the council on Tuesday to see the contract move forward.

Among other things, the contract outlines new operations for Main Street, including implementing an ombudsman program in which a Main Street liaison will be available to help prospective business owners through city permitting, an idea praised by Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe.

"If Main Street can step up and help with that, it would be great," he said.

Council members took a positive tone Tuesday toward continued funding for Main Street, which hasn't always been the case. Over the past few years, as the city slipped into financial crisis, the council cut Main Street's city funding from $50,000 to $10,000.

In the past budget season, the council had looked at cutting off funding altogether, then reinstated the $10,000 grant during the late stages of negotiations.

During the contract discussions Tuesday, council member Bill Phillips asked his colleagues to drop an "onerous" sentence in the proposed contract that states that Main Street's budget will be cut a minimum of $5,000 next year. The council agreed to strike that sentence

Phillips said that after a brutal budget season, the city appears to be turning a financial corner, and Main Street's mission remains important.

The council will vote on the contract at a future meeting.