1. Opinion

Manager's departure won't solve New Port Richey's financial woes

Published Oct. 4, 2012

John Schneiger did as instructed, but some of his bosses didn't like his methods and the result is a looming vacancy in the New Port Richey city manager's office. Schneiger, on medical leave since Sept. 7, plans to resign his job as city manager, Mayor Robert Consalvo announced Tuesday night with a formal separation agreement expected to be considered by the council next week. Consalvo quoted Schneiger as saying he'd lost the faith of a council majority and no longer could serve effectively.

Schneiger joined the city in spring 2010 and his departure means New Port Richey will be seeking its fourth city manager in eight years. A new name on the office door, however, won't solve an old problem. Falling property values and long-term debt accumulated by the past council's real estate speculating dominated the just-completed budget discussions and will continue to do so in the immediate future.

Schneiger, instructed by the council earlier this budget cycle to propose a 10 percent spending cut, returned with just 6 percent in identified savings and then council members and individual constituencies balked at the suggestions. Bold ideas to sell the recreation center, merge public safety departments or close the library never gained traction — at least not yet. But, Schneiger couldn't even sell a majority of the five-member council on limiting swimming pool hours, cutting out curbside pickup of yard debris or ending the subsidies for special events downtown.

Eventually, the city raised its property tax rate 14 percent, adopted higher stormwater and street light fees and eliminated 10 jobs from the payroll, but still must confront a $9 million shortfall over the next five years. The deficit comes because the city is upside down on its Community Redevelopment budget attributed to earlier borrowing and an inability to sell or develop the city-owned property downtown. Those decisions pre-date Schneiger's tenure and the eventual solutions will now be outside his purview as well.

Clearly, some of Schneiger's suggestions rubbed people the wrong way, particularly his initial push for special event organizers to become self sufficient without municipal subsidies. The amount of value those events contribute to the long-term financial health of downtown is a matter of debate among council members themselves, but the civic pride and community spirit that accompany the festivals can't be overlooked. Unfortunately, the city's bottom line needs more than intangible contributions.

In a July newsletter to residents, Schneiger alluded to a coming, but undefined ''structural change'' to city government. At the time, nobody suspected that would mean Schneiger's absence from the top of the structure, but that is the end result.

So, the next New Port Richey city manager will face the same task as its departing one — ensuring the long-term solvency of a city handicapped by a down real estate market and a culture resistant to change.