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Politics decided, let the decisions begin in 2 cities

A Times Editorial
Published April 13, 2007


It's time to replace the afterglow of just-completed municipal elections with the illumination of new ideas in two west Pasco cities. In New Port Richey, downtown redevelopment is the most pressing issue, but dialogue during the campaign indicates continued ignorance in some quarters about its long-term benefits to the city.

The council would be smart to schedule town hall meetings to get out its message to residents that redevelopment shouldn't be construed as a generous handout to favored developers, but rather an attempt to invigorate downtown with pedestrian traffic, improve the neighborhoods, promote home ownership, and bolster residential quality of life through community policing and enhanced code enforcement.

It's apparent that the complexity of taxing districts, transferred development rights and other proposed redevelopment tools continues to be overwhelmed by public rhetoric over spending for downtown improvements completed nearly a decade ago.

The stalled Main Street Landings symbolizes the dilemma the council faces. Work stopped at the riverside residential and commercial project on Main Street after the council, with a 3-2 vote, declined to consider a special taxing district to help finance up-front infrastructure costs. Only Marilynn deChant, re-elected Tuesday to a two-year term, remains from that three-person majority. Stability in the pricing of construction materials and a reversal of the sagging real estate market are more likely to rekindle enthusiasm for completing Main Street Landings than any deal the city can strike with the developers. Still, that doesn't mean the city shouldn't begin a good-faith effort to jump-start negotiations.

It is particularly important because the city also must negotiate deals in the near future to refurbish the former Hacienda Hotel, redevelop property along Orange Lake and eventually redevelop HCA's Community Hospital site after the city's biggest payer of property taxes departs for Trinity.

In Port Richey, voters said the status quo isn't good enough. They want to keep their city intact but turned out their longest-serving council member, Phyllis Grae, who portrayed herself as the champion of retaining the local government.

Mayor-Elect Richard Rober's two postelection pronouncements, to cut the city's tax rate and to move forward on dredging canals, indicates he hasn't stopped campaigning. He should put aside the promises and start the leadership.

His platform planks are incompatible. If dredging canals along privately owned property is the council's goal, it must level with the electorate and develop a realistic financing plan including a special taxing district of the affected property owners.

The city redevelopment fund, which will gain more than $900,000 this year, shouldn't be exhausted by dredging dreams. More realistically, the city should ensure that that money is available for proposed riverside improvements east of the U.S. 19 bridge, for a parking garage, or for whatever redevelopment plan the city embarks on to improve its commercial base, outfit parks or spruce up residential neighborhoods with sidewalks and lighting.

A majority of voters said they don't want to spend money on dissolving the municipal government. Their will should be respected. The campaign is over. It is time to govern.

[Last modified April 13, 2007, 07:03:24]

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