State lawmakers walked back from plans to dissolve the city of Port Richey Friday after hundreds of city residents came out - many to support their hometown.
At the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting, three state senators and three representatives for the county decided more information was needed, and agreed to table the bill until after a state audit of the city’s finances is complete.
Dozens of Port Richey residents - wearing matching turquoise shirts with images of the town of 3,000 residents - attended the meeting at Pasco-Hernando State College. Many learned of the proposal just two weeks earlier in a local newspaper.
“When this notice came out, this tiny little ad, we were so caught off guard that our city manager thought it was a Halloween prank,” said Laurie Simpson, a 25-year resident of Port Richey. “Everybody’s come together, and I’ve never seen so much support for our city.”
Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, filed the dissolution bill after the arrests of the city’s Mayor and vice-mayor earlier this year sparked her own concerns of financial mismanagement and corruption within city government.
Mariano’s bill was tabled after senators Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, and Tom Lee, R-Brandon, voiced concerns that moving to dissolve the town before a state audit would be premature. If it had moved forward, the issue would have been voted on by members of the Florida Legislature.
“It’s nice that they’re giving us a chance to rebound from the past,” said current Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay. “I think the fact that they're going to take time to look closely into the operation of the city and the finances is important to make an educated decision on the direction of the city.”
Port Richey residents said after the hearing that they were pleased by the way the lawmakers listened to concerns the move would reduce the connection between residents and those who work for the city, such as emergency services.
“Our response time is amazingly fast,” former councilman Bill Colombo said. “[First responders] will literally get there in under two minutes, and when they get there they know the patient and they know the patient’s condition.”
Colombo says that in Port Richey, residents are on a first-name basis with the firefighters and police officers - something he fears would be missing if the town were to be absorbed by neighboring Pasco County.
Tremblay said he felt strongly that if changes were to happen in Port Richey, decisions should start with the residents. He’s pleased that the next step will be an audit and a possible referendum that would leave the final decision up to the town’s residents.
“It's nice that we get a fresh chance as a city.”