Port Richey officials agree to reopen park bathrooms

The Port Richey City Council changed course and decided to reopen park restroom facilities. The board will revisit the issue at the Sept. 22 regular meeting to make sure city staff has been able to keep up with sanitation duties.

PORT RICHEY — Following plenty of discussion over the past month, city officials agreed to reopen bathroom facilities at its parks.

“I’ve been out and I’ve talked to a lot of the citizens, and there’s been a pretty big outcry in terms of people wanting to use the public restrooms here in the city,” Mayor Scott Tremblay said during the Sept. 8 regular meeting of the City Council. “We’ve been tasked with the balance of public safety versus the convenience for citizens to use the bathrooms.”

Public restrooms at all city parks have been closed since the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While surrounding municipal and county governments began slowly reopening their parks and amenities in recent months, Port Richey kept its bathrooms locked 24/7. The city’s primary concerns were whether its limited staff could keep up with maintaining increased levels of sanitation and cleanliness, and if it could run into liability issues if certain standards weren’t met on a daily basis.

The council first discussed the park restroom issue at its Aug. 11 meeting, then again on Aug. 25. Board members were more open to the idea of reopening facilities on Aug. 25, but failed to agree how to do so. Some proposed opening a limited number first while others held firm to an all-or-nothing approach.

Opinions swung fully to the side of reopening at the Sept. 8 meeting.

“All the restaurants are open,” said Councilman William Dittmer. “You really can’t legislate personal hygiene with people, so I think they should all be open. Especially after hearing the stories about people using behind the bathrooms because the bathrooms are closed.”

Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell asked if public works staff is going to be able to handle the cleaning and upkeep duties.

“I think the city’s going to have to do the best we can with what we’ve got,” Tremblay responded.

Councilman Todd Maklary suggested that park restrooms reopen and the council can readdress the issue after a period of time.

“We should set a report for either two weeks or four weeks after we open them from (Public Works and Utilities Director Sean Yuhas) to make sure we’re keeping some semblance of cleanliness there,” Maklary said. “Just kind of a check to make sure we’re doing things right. If at that point he feels he can’t maintain cleanliness in all of them, then maybe we can scale it back.”

The council voted 5-0 to open the facilities and then hear a report from staff at the next regular meeting Sept. 22.

Resident Dave Mueller, a frequent council meeting attendee who has been vocal about reopening park restrooms, said it’s an action that the community would appreciate.

“I hear a lot of commentary from people in the neighborhood when I walk and talk to them and people are real concerned about that,” Mueller said prior to the Council’s decision.

Golf cart ordinance passes

The council unanimously supported the second reading of changes to the municipal ordinance that regulates golf cart usage within city limits.

Golf cart owners with vehicles registered in other jurisdictions, such as New Port Richey, are now officially permitted to operate in Port Richey. The council also increased the speed limit for golf carts from 15 miles per hour to 20.

While outside residents may bring their golf carts into Port Richey, all vehicles must have a valid city registration. Fees for violating this regulation start at $50 for the first offense and increase to $75 for the second offense. A third offense results in a $150 fine and the revocation of being able to register for a year.

The council also changed the city’s golf cart registration fee structure. The one-time, $50 registration fee is now a yearly $25 fee. Owners who registered and paid $50 during the 2020 calendar year will have the $25 fee for 2021 waived.