Analysis Indicates Cuts in Largo Budget Should Stress Basic Priorities
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Largo's Police Department and Fire & Rescue are scheduled for cuts in proposals made by City Manager Norton Craig in the effort to cut $3.6 million from the budget for fiscal year 2011.
Other departments are being cut as well, but with these two crucial services of the city human life is at stake.
The data to fulfill cutbacks in the police and fire departments can be dry and unappealing.
But when the cuts are put in terms of bottom line effect, a different picture is drawn.
For example, begin with the proposition that when times were better both police and fire had the needs of their basic missions fulfilled.
That is, the tasks to be performed were adequately funded. Not lavishly taken care of, but minimums were met.
Start cutting and the bottom line is that the minimums are no longer met and people are put at risk. The fire trucks get to the fire a little more slowly. The equipment arrives at a severe vehicle accident later and the "jaws of life" cannot be employed in time to save a life.
Same with the police. Fewer resources mean that risk goes up. The logic is irrefutable.
It would seem to be a no-brainer if the decision making in decreeing cuts uses an objective approach. Police, fire, water, sewer, trash pickup all obviously are essential services.
In other words, the idea is not to be fair and have all departments sacrifice more or less equally on budget cutbacks.
But how about Recreation, Parks and Arts, a sector of city services that always seems to make the most noise when cuts are in the offing.
And it is not the boss over there, Joan Byrne, or the staff themselves that makes all the noise. But they sure as heck orchestrate it. They are able to produce a turnout of citizens to put pressure on the City Commission (members of which always have their own re-election in the forefront of their calculations, in most cases) and thus make cutbacks a political question.
Talk about closing a park, as happened last year, and the clarion call goes out, residents show up, the commission (and the staff) is put under pressure and a good outcome seldom results.
In any objective analysis, the programs offered by RPA, good as they may be, do not fill any definition of necessary. Nice to have, but an extra.
It is not the end of the world. The current crisis will pass. Things will get better. If, for example, the lavish expansion of Highland Rec is put off for a while, does that endanger any life or property? If a swimming pool's usage is lessened is that crucial?
Budget cut discussion seems to have morphed into something that is all about RPA. How about for openers that there be no - repeat NO - cuts in police and fire. This is not about sharing the pain and being fair - it is about priorities based on objective judgment.
Monday night's citizen forum at the Library to hear suggestions on budget cutting saw 50 or so people come to the microphone. Of that number, 47 were those fighting against any cuts in Recreation, Parks and Arts.
Speaking of the library, that is an excellent place to get economically sensible. For example, stop buying junk novels. If people want to read that dreck let them buy it. Stop providing DVDs. It puts the Library in competition with movie renting businesses (one of which just went out of business).
There should be a fee for library cards. Why not? When that was suggested to Casey McPhee's predecessor in a casual conversation a few years ago, the reaction almost required calling the emergency revival squad from Fire & Rescue.
Another thing that would make sense is setting up the swimming pool at Southwest Recreation as a profit center. It is the only Olympic size pool in the county and has Olympic approved diving platforms. If it were managed properly and marketed professionally, the pool could be a paying asset for the city.
A householder who cut the food bill to spend money on movies, going to Rays or Bucs games or trips to the beach would be adjudged totally irresponsible. This is directly analogous to city spending priorities.
It is time for courage and putting aside the politics of it all. City Commission members now face a test of character.
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