PORT RICHEY — Booming applause from a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people packed Port Richey City Hall Tuesday night as speaker after speaker decried an effort by two state legislators to dissolve the small West Pasco city.
Last week, state Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, announced that she and state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, would introduce legislation to dissolve Port Richey and have it be run by Pasco County. Emotions ran high Tuesday as Port Richey leaders and residents pledged during a City Council meeting to fight hard against dissolution.
The council heard people from all walks of life in Port Richey — residents of more than 40 years, business owners, and city firefighters and police officers worried about losing their jobs. Everyone who spoke blasted the idea of dissolution. And they called for heavy opposition to be present at a Pasco County legislative delegation meeting Friday at the Pasco-Hernando State College West Campus Performing Arts Center, where the dissolution proposal is expected to be heard. The meeting starts at 8 a.m.
Person after person spoke of fighting for the small-town life they love, with quick response times from police and fire, a City Hall with employees they know and a community vibe they cherish. City employees who fear losing their livelihoods spoke of the proposal’s effect on staff members.
“Which state representative or senator has room for a family of five if I can’t pay my mortgage?" said Port Richey firefighter David Wood. "Hopefully they have a place for my family to stay,”
Others decried the tactics of Mariano and Hooper, who didn’t seek input from city officials or the public before announcing their dissolution effort. Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay took umbrage to accusations that the city has engaged in financial wrongdoing and mismanagement.
It is particularly angering, he said, because the city easily debunked such claims with facts, including that it has $16 million in assets and a $12 million budget with only 3 percent debt. Port Richey’s low millage rate stands up as one of the best in the state for its constituents, he said.
The dissolution effort is not to save taxpayers money, but a “power grab,” said Tremblay, an attorney who has been mayor since June. Earlier in the week, city officials called it a behind-the-scenes attempt by Mariano’s father, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, to take over the city that sits in his district.
Both Marianos deny the city’s allegations.
“To have small amounts of people with power that can bully communities is certainly something that I took a personal stance against,” Tremblay said. “My personal belief is that this isn’t something that is appropriate, and it’s something that I personally detest to be honest with you. I don’t think anything about it is right morally, or legally for that matter, in some ways.”
Vice Mayor Will Dittmer said it is the city’s valuable resources that are being sought.
“This is not about our finances," he said. "It’s about them wanting our waterfront, our wells and our property. That’s what this is about.”
Tremblay said he contacted Hooper after news broke of the dissolution effort. Tremblay said he believes that Hooper was misled by Mariano. He said Hooper expressed surprise at the way the city rebounded earlier this year after the arrests of former Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad and Vice Mayor Terry Rowe on charges unrelated to cityhood matters.
The sentiment in the room Tuesday was summed up by longtime resident Sandra Spaldi, a regular council meeting attendee. Unity will be what stops a dissolution effort, she said
“We have to band together," Spaldi said. "We have to become one unit and fight for it.
"And once we do that, no one can take this city away.”