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Council accepts budget, job cuts

The budget maintained the millage rate, but eliminated the emergency dispatch center and several other city jobs.

By ALEX LEARY
Published September 19, 2003

PORT RICHEY - The City Council gave final approval to a $3-million general fund budget Tuesday, and in doing so affirmed a set of controversial cuts to the Police Department.

The council also voted to maintain the property tax rate at 5.82 mills, despite the objection of Mayor Eloise Taylor and council member Bill Bennett, who have said the amount is too restrictive.

Cuts to the Police Department include a detective and patrol position and the emergency dispatch center, which had employed five people. A plan is in the works to obtain dispatch services from the city of New Port Richey for $93,000 annually.

Bennett and Taylor expressed concern, though, because the contract deal is not final and there is talk in New Port Richey of changing the city charter to give the New Port Richey City Council more control over altering or abolishing the Police Department.

Additionally, Taylor argued that the estimated savings of a contract, which City Manager Vince Lupo says is about $90,000, is based on inaccurate estimates.

To close out dispatch, the city will have to spend roughly $26,000 in unemployment benefits, in addition to sick and vacation payouts, for the workers who stand to lose their jobs, according to finance director Annette Perez.

The budget is based on a millage rate of 5.82. A mill is equal to $1 tax for each $1,000 of taxable property. So the owner of a $100,000 house who takes the $25,000 homestead exemption would pay about $436.

In addition to police cuts, the budget eliminates several other city jobs, including one position each in the public works, utilities, finance and building departments.

Remaining employees are eligible for up to a 5 percent merit raise under the budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The pay increases represent about $72,000, though not all workers will get the maximum amount.

"I find that appalling in the face of elimination of a department in this city," Taylor said, referring to dispatch. She said there were ways to pay for dispatch, such as shifting code enforcement to police, but accused the three-member majority of ignoring such solutions.

"I'm glad we have the three votes," retorted Dale Massad, who supported the millage rate and budget amounts along with Pat Guttman and Phyllis Grae.

Massad cited a consultant study that was the stated basis for eliminating dispatch.

[Last modified September 19, 2003, 01:48:06]


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