I regularly hear from folks that are very happy with the changes that they are seeing in New Port Richey. I’ve been blessed to serve with council members who are committed to investing in a series of positive changes to the city.
For entirely too long, the city based its plans on what was “good enough” to get by. It was almost as if the powers that be thought that our residents didn’t deserve anything better. Doing the minimum you can get away with is NOT the way to effect positive change.
When I came on board as Mayor, a majority of council members agreed with me that we weren’t going to accept “good enough” anymore. We set a higher bar for ourselves and our city.
You can sum up why we want more for New Port Richey with the term “Quality of Life”.
Sims Park is an obvious example of where that investment has paid off. In spite of a number of people who didn’t want us to make major changes to Sims Park, we moved forward. We spent several million dollars sprucing up Sims Park. The park is not a revenue generator. On a strictly dollar basis, it makes no sense to invest in a park that will never make money. That’s the point: The improvements we made to Sims Park have NOTHING to do with generating revenue and EVERYTHING to do with improving the Quality of Life in New Port Richey. Most of the skeptics now agree that the Sims Park improvements were a good idea.
When companies and families look at places to settle down in and call home, they look at Quality of Life issues. Other examples, besides parks, include things like housing, schools, roads, shopping, entertainment, libraries and recreational opportunities. No one thing is likely to be the key factor in a decision to move here, but they all play a role.
If you look at the items in the city’s five year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the vast majority of them are tied to making New Port Richey a more attractive place to call home. The next big item on the list is the Recreation and Aquatic Center.
After nearly ten years in the current facility, we’ve figured out that some things need to be changed to meet current and anticipated future needs. The center needs additional space for exercise equipment and meetings & parties. One glaring omission from the original design is that there is no day care center. That wasn’t a big deal when “everyone” was a retiree, but our city and the surrounding area is getting younger and a safe area for kids while mom or dad workout is important today.
How important is this? I’ll suggest you think back to Sims Park before and after the upgrades there. The park is routinely mobbed with children in numbers that none of us had ever seen before. If we make the Recreation Center more conducive for use by families, they will come. Unlike Sims Park, the Recreation Center charges for memberships and admission. More people signing up will help cover the operating cost of the center. Will memberships and admissions ever cover the full cost of the Center? No, but that isn’t the point. The point is that having a modern, well equipped Recreation Center is a part of the Quality of Life we want for our city residents.
Like the Sims Park plans, the Recreation Center upgrade plans have attracted opposition. There are those that would have us do the minimum necessary to address the most critical issues and let everything else slide. I believe that is a mistake. We will be reviewing the latest quotes for upgrading the Rec Center at our January 3rd meeting. My guess is that we will approve more than the “good enough to get by” folks want and less than everything that the design team has proposed. The key will be doing as much as we can to modernize the Rec Center while staying within our budget constraints. We have to address the changing needs of our community while being fiscally prudent.
There are other Quality of Life items that are included in the CIP, such as a proposed expansion of the library. A public library is, by definition, a money loser. Virtually everything the library offers is free of charge to the public. Making money has never been the point for the library. It is an integral part of our city’s Quality of Life. Back in the 1980’s, the city had the opportunity to give the library to the county system and eliminate the cost of running a library from our budget. The city turned that down because of the importance that city residents placed on the library then. Our city library remains a vital part of our city to this day.
When I was growing up, the New Port Richey Public Library was a small, one story building sitting where city hall is now. The library moved into the old Pierce Elementary School building some years back and is still there today. The biggest impediment to physically expanding our library is one of space. Fortunately, there is an obvious location right next door: Fire Station One.
The good news is that the city is already scoping out possible locations for a new Fire Station One or a consolidated station that would house all of our fire service employees. The new fire station is also in the CIP. Once the fire station issue is resolved, then it becomes a simple matter to look at converting the old station into a library annex or “Maker Space”.
It has been suggested that we would be better off to spending money earmarked for the Recreation Center on things like paving. Keeping our roads up is important, but there are already three sources of funds for paving: The local option gas tax, a portion of the Penny for Pasco receipts, and assessments of the properties benefiting from the paving. We’ve got some work to do getting the assessments sorted out to be as fair to everyone as possible, but the funding sources are there.
The local option gas tax is particularly important. The county changed the allocation methodology to what they thought was their advantage a year or so ago. It is in our interest to spend as much as possible on paving to boost the amount of gas tax receipts that come to the city. If you don’t spend the gas tax revenues each year, the next year’s allocation goes down. As the old expression goes, two can play this game.
In looking at how our city ranks on the Quality of Life scale, it is important to look at the whole picture. No single piece is of overriding importance, but everything together makes a difference.
So where do we go from here? We could do as one council member suggested in September and slash taxes, spending, and city services to the bone. The other four of us disagreed.
In my opinion, the way to make things better is to make strategic investments in our community, secure in the knowledge that those improvements are going to make our city more attractive to the businesses and residents we want to attract. The second phase of Sims Park / Orange Lake improvements, updating our Recreation and Aquatic Center, building a new entrance into the Grey Preserve, planning for an expanded library, and all of the other things are strategic investments in the future of New Port Richey.
So what do you think? Do you believe we should settle for “good enough to get by” or are we right to set a higher standard and strive for that going forward?
Rob Marlowe, Mayor