Faced with a projection that New Port Richey could be looking at a $700,000 deficit that needs to be covered before approving the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, City Council members opted to table any action on how a nearly $1 million surplus of utility funds might be spent toward general fund expenses.
The city recently transferred to the general fund.
Last year, the city learned it faced a deficit that could reach $18 million over a five-year period. The projection hovered through the budget process, and city leaders took action to try to right the ship, including raising stormwater and streetlight fees. The city also increased its tax rate and refinanced its debt.
Now, the city’s deficit is projected to only reach about $5 million in the next five years. The city, however, still faces challenges in the form of high police and fire pension costs, declining property values and rising healthcare costs.
A few weeks ago, council member Bill Phillips presented a list of ideas for spending the utility fund surplus. His suggestions included putting some money in reserves, launching a community policing program and investing in the Hacienda restoration.
Phillips was initially eager to get the ball rolling on making decisions for the money's use, but backed off Tuesday, April 23, noting the city finance director was not at the meeting and council member Judy DeBella Thomas was also absent.
“I guess we’re just going to table it,” he said.
Councilman Chopper Davis complimented Phillips on his ideas but mentioned it “may not be the department heads’ first choice on where they would like to spend the money.”
Davis proposed allocating one-third of the utility fund money to city department heads and letting them propose uses.
He also said he would like to investigate the idea of using funds for the Hacienda.
Councilman Jeff Starkey also was in favor of waiting to hear from department heads and said he'd like an update on the city's finances.
“We have to be careful with spending money, but we have to spend money to make our city better and generate more revenue,” he said. “In my opinion, that ties in with community policing program."
Mayor Bob Consalvo agreed.
"Over half of my emails and phone calls and correspondence are regarding crime," he said. “There are folks that are scared to live in some of our neighborhoods."
What do you think the city should do with the money? Share your thoughts by commenting below.