PORT RICHEY — Two state legislators want to dissolve the city of Port Richey and turn its governance over to Pasco County.
Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, announced their plan in a statement released late Monday, a day after a legal notice of the intended legislation appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.
Mariano and Hooper portrayed the measure as a cost-savings to city property taxpayers who no longer would have to pay for municipal services along with their county tax bills. Mariano said Port Richey property owners could see a more than 40 percent reduction in their annual tax bills.
But the representative, who pushed this idea last legislative session, didn’t mince words in noting the city’s recent scandals. Then-Mayor Dale Massad was arrested in February on a charge of practicing medicine without a license and multiple counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer after he was accused of firing two shots at Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies executing a search warrant. Later, both Massad and his successor, then-Acting Mayor Terrence Rowe, were accused of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. A jury convicted Massad on those latter charges. The case against Rowe is pending. Both resigned their public offices.
“There’s a whole laundry list of problems,” Mariano said. "Fiscally, they have not done a good job in their history of spending their dollars wisely, and it’s scandal after scandal that really accumulated into a poorly run city.''
But the maneuver drew rebukes from the city’s elected officials.
“The people of Port Richey don’t want to dissolve,” said Mayor Scott Tremblay. "They love the police department. The response times are a minute or two minutes. … The fire department is the same issue. Certainly the county’s not going to be able to provide that kind of service.''
Recently elected City Council member Todd Maklary was even more blunt.
"I think it’s very disappointing that our representative kind of went behind our city’s back to file that legislation,’’ he said.
After two special elections, this coastal city of about 3,000 people now has a full five-member council that includes Tremblay, Maklary and Tom Kinsella, none of whom were in office with Massad and Rowe.
Two prior attempts to dissolve the city, including a push from Tallahassee legislators in 1997, failed at the ballot box.
The bill, if approved, would require the Pasco County Commission to approve a dissolution plan within 45 days and for the city’s assets and liabilities to be transferred to the county by Sept. 30, 2020.
A public hearing on the proposal will be held during the Pasco County legislative delegation meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. on Oct. 11 at the performing arts center at Pasco-Hernando State College’s New Port Richey campus.
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Mariano’s announcement came less than a week after her father, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, publicly chastised Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo for the city’s slow progress on a planned dredging project.
On Monday, Rep. Mariano criticized the city’s redevelopment spending, but said her legislation was unrelated to that dust-up at the Sept. 24 city-county workshop.
While the representative highlighted the property tax reduction, the potential demise of the city raises other financial considerations, including the fate of Pasco County’s yearly payment to the city Community Redevelopment Agency and Port Richey’s share of the Penny for Pasco sales tax revenue. Combined, those account for more than $1.1 million annually to the city.
County commissioners Mike Moore and Mike Wells Jr. were reserved in their comments, saying they would wait for the result of the delegation’s public hearing.
But some Port Richey residents weren’t shy.
“It seems like a power grab to me,’’ said resident Laurie B. Simpson.
She said she and others plan to wear T-shirts to the delegation meeting with the message, “Port Richey’s here to stay.’’