LARGO -- Largo commissioners reduced the proposed millage rate of 4.75 to the rollback rate of 4.2758, setting off the anger bug in three of the commissioners and then the gang wrangled over the budget resolution because they don't understand simplicity.
The reduction, by a 4-3 vote, means the city will tax at the same level that raised the money for the general fund last year and will require a $1,160,000 cut in the budget.
Those opposing a reduction in taxes and four square for a raise was the "Stanton gang" -- Pat Gerard, Gay Gentry and Harriet Crozier, inveterate supporters of whatever the city manager comes up with.
Mary Black was first out of the box with going for the rollback rate although it was known that Mayor Bob Jackson strongly favored it. Andy Guyette wisely agreed.
The $1,160,000 figure bounced around for a while. First it was quoted as $900,000 then the ever alert assistant city manager, Henry Schubert, said it was $1,600,000. Later he corrected that figure to $1,160,000. But $1.6 million continued to be referred to.
A reduction of $1,160,000 in the $58 million general funds is a decrease of 2 percent. Put it this way, to make it real -- if you had $5 in your pocket and had to give up 2 percent you would shell out a dime. The city has a fund balance (surplus) of more than $10 million.
With the original 4.75 rate, the taxpayers of Largo would have experienced a 14.6 percent tax increase in real, bottom line terms.
In an exercise of total absurdity, Gentry said that if the Katrina hurricane had hit here it would have required far more in city expenditures.
That hurricane hit New Orleans, 425 miles away as the crow flies, a long day's journey from here, and a storm that did not come remotely near these shores. But nevertheless, Gentry created another windstorm with her blowhard observations (akin to the idea that if pigs had wings they could fly).
Added to the agenda virtually at the last minute was a review of the Clearwater-Largo Road development corridor situation.
That stalled at the County Commission level August 16 on a 3-3 vote with Ronnie Duncan absent. Commissioners Ken Welch, Susan Latvala and Karen Seel denied approval because their stated concern was the prospects for people, many of low income, who will be displaced by the project.
Density is also an issue which county commissioners and Steve Spratt, the county administrator struggled with. The County Commission takes the issue up again next Tuesday with the full board expected to be on hand.
In the pipeline is a letter to Duncan that Bill Ockunzzi, Indian Rocks Beach mayor, sent Tuesday in which he asks Duncan to turn down the Largo bid on the basis that approval necessarily puts a burden on county taxpayers.
"Please join three of your colleagues and vote to deny the Clearwater-Largo Road Redevelopment Plan," Ockunzzi wrote. "I understand the need to revitalize urban areas, but, the plan . . .will burden the general county taxpayer . . .with no appreciable countywide benefit that justifies the cost."
Ockunzzi cited the the displacement of residents in the area and the lack of affordable housing. He called that "bad public policy" in a county where the rising costs of property taxes, insurance, public utility rate increases, etc., is driving direct expenses associated with housing to unprecedented levels.
"It is doubtful that families driven from their existing homes, regardless of their income, can replace their living quarters at current prices and expenses," Ockunzzi wrote.
He also wrote that the Largo plan "appears to be based and rely upon the promise of density increases to attract redevelopment. The winners in this scenario will be the developers who will receive the ‘windfall' density increases, and Largo who will garner more tax dollars."
In a memo prepared by Mike Staffopoulos, Largo community development director, and Carol Stricklin, assistant director, they said that they had met with county staff members and had resolved the issue of relocation.
They could not agree on density issues, the memo said.
Part of the memo is a long statement from Stanton in which he analyzes the situation and gives a strong opinion that there should be no further delay.
"It is imperative that the plan be approved by Pinellas County so residents who have made long-term investments within the corridor as well as businesses that have re-located pending the adoption of this plan are not discouraged by governments inability to work in a collaborative fashion . . . in the best interest of the community and residents of Largo."
The plan has been in the works for four years and there has been discouragement. Those who have a stake in the redevelopment are getting fed up with the delays, which are not the city's fault, but perhaps are part of the long-term city-county gun battle that persists.
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