LARGO – Largo’s City Commission Tuesday night failed to make a decision on a proposed additional homestead tax exemption for qualified seniors.
Because of collateral actions that might be taken by the Legislature, now in session, commissioners wanted to hold up on a decision until they had more information.
The idea was discussed in January and the consensus then was for a $15,000 exemption.
Commissioner Andy Guyette asked why, in light of that, it was now being discussed de novo.
City Manager Steve Stanton said there had been more discussion on the subject – he didn’t specify by whom, but certainly not by commissioners unless they were breaking the Sunshine Law. And he also cited new commissioners as a result of the March 7 election.
Mayor Pat Gerard, a tax and spend advocate of the first water, strongly favors the $25,000 figure.
Kim Adams, the city’s financial guru, said that specific figures on loss of tax income to the city could not be ascertained because no one has yet applied for the proposed exemption.
Presumably, if all those who qualify did apply it is estimated that there would be a shortfall of $37,000 in revenue with the $15,000 exemption and $62,000 with the $25,000 exemption. Certainly negligible amounts in a $120 million budget.
On the other hand, the savings to those seniors using the exemptions would be $64 ($5.33 a month) at $15,000 and $107 ($8.91 a month) at $25,000.
Again, hardly significant amounts, even on a tight budget.
Although an agenda item was seeking commission approval for the shift in operation of the coffee shop at the Largo Public Library from Bookmark Café, LLC to its new owners, Rameh and Delai Baydoun, the item was withdrawn as needing action because Bookmark made no assignment of its rights but made a corporate sale.
So the new owners take over immediately.
The coffee shop has an interesting history and illustrates what goes on in Largo.
When the library was abuilding, there were no firm plans for such a coffee shop and the first that the commission officially heard about such an enterprise came last spring.
At that time, Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, appeared before the commission with Barbara Murphey, then the library director, and presented the plans for such a shop and sought approval.
This was criticized by then Mayor Bob Jackson as a last-minute proposal with a squeezed time limit and had the appearance of a fait accompli.
Jackson said that it would have been better if the commission had been in on the early planning of such a coffee shop. After some discussion and a second commission discussion which was featured by the Schubert-Murphy performance that stressed speed was necessary with a “gotta do it now, gotta do it now” flavor, the project was approved.
What really happened is this –
At the outdoor music fest last April (that went into the red by $50,000-plus) Pat Burke, a former commissioner, approached Schubert with the idea of a coffee shop and volunteered the information that her boy friend, Howard Ritchie, and a friend of Ritchie’s were desirous of running a coffee shop at the library.
That set in motion the train of events that led to the Schubert and Murphy appearance before the commission. Of course, the project had the imprimatur of Stanton because not a sparrow falls in Largo without the knowledge and approval of Stanton.
Burke and Ritchie are also listed as principals in Television Advertising Partners, Inc. Burke is a former employ of Bright Works Television.
When the new library opened last July 31, the coffee shop began its operation.
Why Ritchie and his friend, S. Michael Crivello, who are the principals in Bookmark Café, LLC, have opted to get out of the business after only eight months of operation is unknown. Crivello is from Wisconsin.
A query to Schubert as to what price the business was exchanged was neither answered or acknowledged. Because the parties are private, outside the city as business entities, the information is not public record.
Under terms of the agreement with the city, the coffee shop operators pay the city $18,000 a year with an increase of 3 percent each year.
Rameh Baydoun has been a businessman in St. Petersburg for a number of years. Among other ventures, he has operated Burger Bay at The Pier for almost 20 years.
The jousting between Gerard and the public continued at the citizen comment portion of the meeting. She advised one speaker “be careful” as he apparently verged on territory verboten in her rubrics.
Curtis Holmes, who clashed with Gerard two weeks ago when she enforced silence on him when he got into an area that was embarassing to her, claimed Tuesday that his rights had been violated and that he was in the process of seeking redress in the courts.
He also mentioned what he described as a threat he received from Stanton and said “I don’t take threats lightly.” Holmes said he was in the process of creating a web site.
Apparently Holmes was referring to language Stanton used in an e-mail to him that read, “I still feel this might be resolved between you and her. ..before someone gets into trouble trying to right a wrong that is not wrong.”
Holmes wondered in a separate interview what “getting into trouble” could possibly mean.
Commissioner Andy Guyette experienced another example of having fun and getting educated in the world of municipal government. The city shelled out more than $2,000 for a boondoggle in Washington last month for Guyette.
Stanton was at the same National League of Cities orgy and one can understand that at manager level such outings may be of benefit. But observers expressed wonderment as to how the city benefits from a commissioner attending.
Chief Jeff Bullock presented the Firefighter of the Year award to Mark Monaghan who undoubtedly saved the life of a lad, 6, through his immediate and unhesitating action last year.
Monaghan was on his way home when he encountered a scene where the boy had just been pulled from a lake by a passing deputy and a neighbor.
He stopped to assist and performed CPR until the boy’s breathing was restored. After a medical check and monitoring, the boy suffered no ill effects.
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