In my last NPR Note, If We Can, I wrote about a number of things I set out to change during my first term as Mayor. As you will recall from that article, I said: “We are trying to get the county’s attention and assistance in dealing with problem areas that, while near us, are within the county’s jurisdiction.” We have been working on this issue with the county for months now and I’m please to give you an update:
One of the ongoing issues we’ve been addressing has been the drug dealers and prostitutes living in the Van Doren / Leisure Lane area of the county and working US 19 and the Southgate Shopping Plaza (both within the city limits). Van Doren and Leisure Lane are an unincorporated area of the county that is completely surrounded by the City of New Port Richey. No matter how hard our Police Department attacks the twin issues of drugs and prostitution inside the city limits, it does no good if the criminals can simply slip back over the city limits to avoid arrest and prosecution.
The county has been unable to delegate sufficient resources to clean up the mess. Given the size of the county budget and that of the county sheriff, it is hard to imagine that they can’t find the money necessary to clean up a few block area in West Pasco.
In fairness to the County, they also don’t have the ordinances in place to address these issues. As Mayor, I led the City Council in passing a number of ordinances specifically designed to address blight, unsafe structures, rental units that are substandard in every way and solicitation for prostitution. We have the tools to address these issues.
What the county HAS done is suggest that New Port Richey annex the area so that we can clean it up ourselves. When I first heard this suggestion, I told our city manager that we ought to get something out of this deal besides the headache that is the Van Doren/Leisure Lane area. As an inducement for the City to take this on, The County has offered to let New Port Richey take control of the jointly owned park at Green Key Beach. Two things would happen if we take control of Green Key Beach: As a city park, Green Key Beach would once again become free to visit. The second thing that would happen would be that the New Port Richey Police Department would be able to give it the sort of attention that it doesn’t get from the Sheriff and his deputies.
There are other areas on the west side of US 19 that I believe also merit our consideration for annexation. Smoothing out the boundaries between New Port Richey and Pasco County would allow us to better address criminal conduct that spills over into our city.
A couple of years back, we went in and condemned the Walden Pond Mobile Home Park. We were able to do this because it was inside the city limits. We removed the derelict structures and we are in the process of foreclosing on the property. Once we have control of the property we will secure it and make it available for redevelopment.
There is currently a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) parcel immediately south of Walden Pond that is not adequately secured. Like many problematic parcels, it is in the county and controlled by absentee owners. We need to find a way to take jurisdiction and clean it up. The easiest solution would be for the FDOT to authorize us to patrol the property. Annexation is another option.
Our City Manager and I spent an hour last week talking to a pair of homeowners that live on Oelsner, near the Port Richey and Pasco County boundaries. Issues with flooding and crime are both complicated by the patchwork border between the two cities and the county in that area. Stormwater, like crime, doesn’t respect municipal borders. I believe we need to take a serious look at possibly annexing some of the county areas in that neighborhood so that we can be a single point of contact when residents in that area have drainage issues and criminal activity impacting their lives.
We normally think of annexation as a way to bring valuable properties into a city. In the cases I’ve outlined above, it is more a matter of bringing problematic parcels immediately adjacent to the City under our jurisdiction so that we can clean up the mess left by others and protect our existing citizens from the crime and blight that spills over the city limits into New Port Richey. That would be a positive step toward addressing one of the remaining “If We Can” items I wrote about in my last NPR Note.
Where will all this go? I don’t know, but the city manager has written to the members of the City Council to bring them up to speed on the discussions she has been having with county officials. I am certain that this will be a topic for discussion at an upcoming council meeting. I’m open to considering every option available to solve this problem.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor