Largo Wraps Budget, Questions Remain on $42 Million Reserves
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - No serious injuries to arms engaged in back patting were reported after the City Commission wound up its budget deliberations last week with much self-congratulating.
Of course, there is still the question of what that $42 million in reserves is all about, and many of those present in City Hall and others crouched before their television sets at home are still scratching their skulls and wondering what the rambling and wandering gibberish from Commissioner Rodney Woods was all about.
Still others were mystified by the Mayor Pat Gerard's biting and resentful remarks that seemed to defend city financial reporting against what she imagined were attacks.
Spectators and auditors looked at each other with big question marks fixated on the pupils of their eyes - "What in tarnation is she talking about?"
There was, in fact, no attacks or criticism, lending credence to the idea that the mayor has, in fact, slipped a cog or two in her brain functions.
Wiser observers just put down the Woods and Gerard performances to good and sound healthy entertainment. Few, they say, take the pair (who will soon be off to New Orleans for a League of Cities orgy) seriously and they do provide good and hearty laughs.
Woods, of course, was still pushing his Martin Luther King hobby horse and with the torrent of words he expostulated betraying at least an addled state of mind listeners did not know whether this was a constitutional issue or a challenge to "put that statue up or we'll have a Watts-type performance here in quiet and peaceful Largo."
Was Woods saying build a memorial and hate crimes will stop in the universe? Or was it, build the statue or else?
Commissioner Andy Guyette chipped in a brilliant fillip to all of this nonsense by warmly noting that $15,000 in "seed money" had been put aside and now "it will be interesting to see what the citizens will contribute." (Obviously, a "don't hold your breath until . . ." exercise.)
Among other good works done last week by the commission was to kill, once and for all, the notion of turning what passes for "downtown" Largo into an iniquitous area of riotous alcohol behavior.
Revising the law to provide for looser restrictions on alcohol sales and extending the sale and consumption of booze into Ulmer Park was given the deep six.
The big wrestling match for the commission, of course, was the budget. Now the numbers are crunched, approval given by the commission, and the city sets forth into fiscal year 2008 (beginning October 1) with a crucial state referendum in January waiting in the wings to possibly upset carefully laid plans.
The January vote is the second step in measures the Legislature has taken for tax relief. How that vote goes at the dawning of the new year could have a dramatic effect on budgeting in all Florida jurisdictions.
Largo's tax raising for 2008 fell into line with state requirements for a 9 percent slash in millage rates - actually a 9 percent cut in the rollback rate.
That puts Largo's millage for the coming year at 3.6514, a 14.6 percent cut from this year's current 4.2758 millage rate. The rollback rate (the millage rate needed to raise an equal amount of money in the new budget given increased property valuations) was 4.0126.
Taxable values in Largo went up by 8.3 percent, bringing property values in the city, as measured by the Property Appraiser's Office, to $4,735,090,054.
While the amount of tax revenue coming in is down 15 percent and expenditures are down only 1.4 percent, cuts in spending were limited.
At one point, waves of fear coursed through the community that the library would be closed on Sundays and that a couple of popular parks would have their hours curtailed.
The outcry from citizens in response to this caused the commission to hastily back off and accede to the citizenry's demands to not make those restrictions.
Still, there remains the question of that $42 million in reserves - an amount equal to almost 32 percent of the $133,089,100 budget in place.
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