LARGO – Again, as it did two days earlier, the Largo City Commission wrongfully got the blame September 15 at the budget hearing for proposed cuts that were mentioned in the fiscal year 2006 budget.
The commission voted, 5-2, to adopt the existing budget, which has a $1.6 million shortfall and make any adjustments as the budget year unfolds. The shortfall was occasioned because the commission on August 31 voted, 4-3, for the rolled back rate. The three negative votes then came from the “Stanton gang” – Harriet Crozier, Pat Gerard and Gay Gentry – which supports City Manager Steve Stanton come what may.
On the vote last Thursday to adopt the budget, Mary Black and Gay Gentry, strange political bedfellows, voted in the negative.
Originally, to make up for the shortfall, the city administration, not the commission, proposed the cuts. Of course, they centered in on those items that were highly people sensitive.
Much of the outcry from the 32 citizens who showed up was from those folks who use school after care. It was a classic case of whose ox was being gored and obviously those who showed up were encouraged to do so by people who ran the programs. The programs all were highly praised and rated much higher by those who spoke than what the YMCA offers.
Black wanted to list certain cuts where she thought the budget had fat. Mayor Bob Jackson started to discourage her and then Crozier suggested that Black go ahead if “she wants to do her thing.”
It is no secret that the very punctilious Black is despised by Gentry, Gerard and Crozier, no doubt because she knows her p’s and q’s, is persistent, and this is obviously resented.
The parade of responsible people who came to the mike to give their input was highlighted an hour and a half into the meeting by a bizarre outburst by J.B. Butler, a well recognized city figure, who gets more strange by the day. His outburst and unwarranted personal attack on Jackson was halted when Police Chief Lester Aradi gently led him away.
As an example of what people don’t know, the after school care programs probably would not be cut from the city budget in any case because they are not funded by taxes.
They are paid for by those who use them on a pass-through basis. They are listed in the budget for accounting purposes with the payments by users going to revenue for a wash. The outreach programs cost the city about $220,000 a year.
So the outcry was much ado about nothing. The care costs taxpayers nothing and there is no way the commission would cut outreach programs. Jackson pointed out that there would be no cuts in what people were worried about, but the commission let the citizens give their views anyway.
Jackson also pointed out that the city has no debt and although there may be a tax increase next year, the city is on a sound financial course.
Among the parade of citizens to the people’s microphone was one individual said she was surprised at the cuts and “didn’t see it in the paper.” She obviously does not read the Clearwater Gazette & Beach Views which covers Largo news extensively.
If nothing else, the scare tactics of key cuts put forth by the administration, not the commission, had the salutary effect of waking up the populace to their city government in a city that is noted for its apathy.
It has to be emphasized that the City Commission never suggested any cuts. The proposed cutbacks were put out by the city manager without any discussion whatsoever with the commission.
The commission never had in mind any cuts in the programs or the elimination of any jobs or parks programs or the victims advocates program.
All of the cuts and the subsequent outcry was political move by Stanton and the administration because he was chagrined over the fact that the commission had voted to set the millage rate at the rolled back rate, instead of going with what he wanted – 4.75 mills.
Jackson tried to soften any criticism of Stanton by saying that he made “suggestions” not “recommendations.” Black said she saw little difference in the two concepts.
The rolled back rate is the millage that will raise the same amount of money raised in the previous budget year. This resulted in a necessary budget reduction of $1.6 million that will be probably ultimately taken out of the city’s substantial reserves.
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