LARGO – Numbers speak a language that lend themselves to the tongue of whoever is speaking.
In other words, they can say just about anything you want, within reasonable limits.
Largo has had a run at the numbers game in the recent tussle over settling on the budget in light of what amounts to keeping taxes just about where they were in the current year.
Governmental figures – both elected and hired hands – like to proclaim that if they keep the millage rate the same as the previous year, there is no tax increase.
Wrong. Given the increased property values (which makes property owners happy on the one hand, but hits them with more taxes on the other) governments increase their take, even though the millage rate stays the same.
But under state law, if you pay more in the upcoming year than you did in the most previous year, that’s a tax increase. It’s a bottom line game.
As the fiscal year 2006 budget year hove into view beginning late last spring, Largo’s administration proposed to keep the millage rate the same as in FY05, that is, at 4.75.
In plain English, that means a property owner pays $4.75 on every $1,000 of valuation after any deductions like the homestead exemption. Thus, in simple terms, property valued at $125,000, less the homestead exemption, pays $475.
Then comes the roll back rate, which can be a tricky concept for some. It isn’t. It simply means that this is the rate that would raise the same amount of ad valorem money that was raised in the previous year.
So, coming to crunch time, on August 31, the Largo City Commission, on Mary Black’s motion, voted to make the roll back rate operative for FY06. Mayor Bob Jackson, Jean Halvorsen and Andy Guyette joined in the 4-3 vote.
This action upset budget spending projections and will result in a shortfall of $1.66 in otherwise anticipated revenue and set off a tizzy among the administration which put on subsequent dog and pony shows on September 13 and 15.
The figures presented constituted a horror show, a period of bleakness extending out years ahead. Trouble is, in showing how shortfalls would compound in 2007, 2008, et seq., the 2006 millage rate of 4.2758 was used.
It is very unlikely in the view of most observers that the roll back rate of 2006 would continue into the future.
Jackson offered some figures that are more akin to reality and tend to take away from the “Stanton gang” – Commissioners Pat Gerard, Harriet Crozier and Gay Gentry – scenarios that are driving them into paroxysms of shuddering fear.
Jackson points out that in successive years, Largo budgets have wound up with substantial money left over. For example, 13.4 percent in 2001, the same in 2002, 12.8 percent in 2003, 9.9 percent in 2004, 11.4 percent in 2005, just ending tomorrow.
At 4.75 mills for 2006, the excess would have been $9.1 million or 14.3 percent. With the roll back rate it will be 11.5 percent.
When the city got locked into the 4.2758 rate with the concomitant $1.66 million drop in revenue, a seeming panic broke out with the administration pumping fear into the populace about severe cuts.
It was all a charade. The shortfall can easily be taken from the $9.1 million surplus, and maybe not totally, because savings can be made as the 2006 budget year (beginning Saturday) unfolds.
Meanwhile, the white elephant across from the new library is eating up $10,000 a week. Cultural Center? It should be called the “tax money eating monster.”
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