Port Richey residents rally to protect city

Port Richey City Council listens as residents take turns defending the city. Dozens stepped up to the microphone to express their opposition to an effort by state lawmakers to dissolve the city.

PORT RICHEY – “Get there on Friday and show them we mean business.”

“There” referred to Pasco-Hernando State College West Campus. “Them” referred to State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and other state legislators.

The quote came from Councilman William Dittmer during this past Tuesday’s regular meeting and it reflected the mood of residents who filled City Hall to show their support for Port Richey.

City Council is hopeful for a similar turnout tomorrow at the PHSC Performing Arts Center, 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey. The Pasco County Legislative Delegation Meeting will be held from 8-11 a.m. and the fate Port Richey may depend on what happens during the three-hour session.

A bill sponsored by Mariano and Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, seeks to dissolve the 90-plus-year-old city. It was announced with a press release last week on Monday, Sept. 30, and cited financial concerns and legal turmoil from City Council as reasons for dissolution.

Port Richey officials reacted by denouncing claims of financial distress and stating that the city is rebounding from the arrests of two elected city officials. Both sides have filed criminal complaints against the other in relation to the issue.

City Council used this week’s regular meeting to respond publicly to the bill, defend its finances, day-to-day operations and value, and allow residents to express their feelings.

“I think it’s important that we band together as people because this isn’t just about our city,” said Mayor Scott Tremblay. “This is about our country and our state and where we are politically. To have small amounts of people in power that can bully communities is certainly something that I take a personal stance against.”

City Manager Vincent Lupo used a PowerPoint presentation to counter claims that the city’s debt situation was out of control and that Community Redevelopment Agency funds were utilized improperly. Hours prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the city distributed correspondence received from the Florida League of Cities detailing the refinancing of a $3,055,000 million bond issued by the Florida Municipal Loan Council. The letter ends by saying “the city’s actions resulted in present value savings to the taxpayers of $318,597.63 in interest payments over the repayment schedule.”

Dozens of residents signed up to get three minutes to speak on the issue and everyone supported the city. If the city were to be absorbed into Pasco County, one of the main concerns expressed dealt with response times for services. Port Richey operates its own police and fire departments and the common belief was that response times would suffer if callers were waiting for Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputies or Pasco County Fire Rescue personnel.

Lupo addressed financial and service-related concerns later in the evening.

“You have two primary assets,” he said, addressing residents. “The first one’s monetary. Our books and our audit show that you have assets in excess of $16 million. Why would you want to give that up? But that’s only money. You have another asset. You have approximately 63 employees who are dedicated to serving. They know many of you by first name. they put their lives on the line for you. Our utility workers – you have a problem, you call, they’re there.”

Dittmer was more direct and pointed with some of his comments in relation to the city’s assets. “This is nothing more than a power grab. We have what they want.”

Port Richey’s faced the prospect of dissolution multiple times in the past and Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell implored residents to speak out. “Make your phone calls. Show up Friday if you can possibly get off work and do it. Let these people know how you feel. You guys have done this before, I’ve seen you do it, you can do it again.”

In addition to encouraging residents to call the offices of state representatives, an online petition created on change.org asks users to support Port Richey remaining incorporated. As of Wednesday evening, the petition’s attracted more than 800 online signatures.