There Appears to be No Bars on Spending Dreams in IRB
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - It was sort of like this - the poverty stricken fellow lit up his Havana, a Churchill Special, with a $100 bill, and blurted out, "To heck with poverty, open another jar of caviar for the cat."
If any other cities around here are nervous about future finances given the pending changes in the tax picture, check out this city.
The spirit here is that money or the lack thereof is no problem. Plenty of money. As the former governor of Louisiana said, "Laissez les bon temps roulez!"
With the Florida Legislature now struggling to come up with some tax formulas that will perhaps radically change revenue flow into cities, Indian Rocks Beach seems to have spending plans as though the city held a winning lottery ticket.
More than $1.4 million in capital spending projects are being spoken of, including expenditures for a projected library that will become the biggest white elephant on Florida's West Coast, dwarfing even anything the famous Ringlings in Sarasota ever dreamed of.
The new 10-year run of the Penny for Pinellas fund is already spoken for to the tune of almost a million dollars.
When future pie in the sky plans are added up and the tax revenue future is contemplated, there seems to be a disconnect.
Most cities around here are talking about possible cuts, making elected officials nervous.
Rather than notes of caution being sounded that could be followed by very realistic draconian cuts, some Indian Rocks Beach folks talk about grandiose plans for spending.
In recent years, with ever escalating property values, cities profited from a tax windfall, a stroke that could be accomplished by not raising the millage rate in many cases.
The wise taxpayers, know, however, that millage rates don't necessarily indicate the "up or down" of taxes. They know that if they paid more this year than last year, taxes went up. That is the bottom line approach, the only approach that really counts.
Included in the spending appetite are plans for a full-time librarian rather than the original part-time idea, $50,000 for a TV and sound system in the city hall, pedestrian shelters and crossovers on Gulf Boulevard (a county road), expansion of the skate park, and most shocking - if not amusing - of all, the idea of covering the tennis courts at Kolb Park, across the street from the city hall.
A steadying hand is needed at city hall, at the top of the government. That could - and should be, in the judgment of many - Steve Cottrell who is the interim city manager.
Cottrell, who used to be at the helm in Belleair, has taken up leadership of the administration in IRB after the mess created by Al Grieshaber, who is still connected to the city umbilically by the lawsuit the city has against him and his counter-claim.
As manager in Belleair, Cottrell started out running a water department, sewer department as well as every other department, including police.
His experience there certainly qualifies him for the Indian Rocks Beach job and there are those in the city who want him in place badly, to get stability if nothing else.
The Grieshaber experience has left the city reeling and with a touch of chaos that Cottrell is succeeding in overcoming.
Some citizens are very vociferous and demanding that there be no sweeping under the rug the details of the Grieshaber debacle. They want the full story, let the chips fall where they may.
The crux of the matter seems to come down to this - Grieshaber, in an e-mail in mid-August last year to Marty Schless, IRB's finance director, said that the city attorney (Andy Salzman) had approved the payment to Grieshaber of some $13,000-plus.
Grieshaber, according to his calendar, met later that day with Mayor Bill Ockunzzi and it is speculated that with a $13,000-plus check in the process of being cut, it would seem that might come up in the conversation - there is no proof of that, but....
Salzman says he never approved any payment to Grieshaber - there is no indication that he did, and it would not be within his jurisdiction to do so. Further, Salzman has said he never saw Grieshaber's e-mail to Schless, although he was copied in on it.
These are the mysteries that citizens want explained and that is why they are pressing for a full examination. "A settlement without full disclosure is just not going to fly," one prominent citizen says.
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