Shimkus, in Effect, Serves as Sixth Member of Board in Belleair Bluffs Role
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - This city has, in effect, a sixth member of the City Commission - or at least it would seem so with the active watchdog role played by Dave Shimkus, who used to be on the commission.
Shimkus resigned his seat early this year for an unsuccessful challenge to Mayor Chris Arbutine.
But no matter.
Shimkus does not have an official position nor a vote, but he has exercised a prominent role since his losing effort in March.
He opposes the city's move to be subsumed into the Largo Fire Department for fire service, maintaining that Belleair Bluffs could indeed continue to keep its fire department.
That's a losing effort, evidently, because the Bluffs is going ahead with a referendum September 1 that will give the commission authority to contract with an outside party for fire services.
Everyone knows that is Largo and the Largo connection is as good as a done deal.
Now, with the commission struggling with a budget and all that goes with it, just like every other jurisdiction, Shimkus's voice is being heard on this subject.
Because of falling property valuation, the commission is going to a higher millage rate - from 3.9997 to 4.3580 - but even this move will result in something like a $100,000 shortfall.
Actually, an increase in millage does not equal, necessarily, an increase in taxes. Taxpayers should know that increases are reflected in what is actually paid.
Even with the 9 percent increase in the millage rate, the city will fall short by $27,000, an amount that will be taken from the city's reserves.
This is where Shimkus comes in.
A year ago, Shimkus got Arbutine to promise that there would be no borrowing from reserves again to make up a budget deficit (even though the reserves approach something like $3 million).
In the current budget discussions, Shimkus reminded his rival of that promise.
Arbutine, in answer, claims that he managed to lower the shortfall for the fiscal year 2020 budget currently under consideration and says the city is headed in the right direction financially.
Shimkus also opposes the 10 percent raises for the city clerk and director of public works. This did come as a bit of a shock - a very large increase when most jurisdictions are forgoing raises for employees.
Arbutine, though, says he plans to go ahead with the huge raises. Commissioners Hunt Brand and Jack Nazario are backing Arbutine, so the increases will happen. Commissioners Joseph Barkley and Suzy Sofer oppose the raises.
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