Some Sputtering, but Highland Ave. Project Survives
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The initial workings of improving Highland Avenue sputtered and stalled and finally survived after some parliamentary acrobatics at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting.
For a while, an interlocal agreement with Pinellas County that would transfer jurisdiction of the road to Largo with some concomitant money for improvements looked doomed.
The original vote on the motion went down to defeat, 3-4, but then Commissioner Gigi Arntzen raised the question of reconsideration.
Reconsideration was approved and further discussion ensued. The discussion was complicated. It involved a lot of arcane financial information.
On the second vote on the motion, which boiled down to what Mayor Pat Gerard succinctly described as "if we don't intend to have a Highland Avenue project" it makes no sense to vote for this, there was a reversal.
This time, those who had originally voted no - Curtis Holmes and Arntzen - switched and the approval came and the Highland Avenue project, still in its perilous infancy, survived. Mary Black and Bob Murray stuck with their opposition.
Detailed plans and engineering, the following item on the agenda, was continued for discussion until May 4.
Highland Avenue now is a non-descript road, straight as a string that runs north and south from Clearwater to East Bay Drive.
By sprucing it up, the plan of those advocating the new look want it to be a triumphal entrance to the City Hall area, a Largo version, as it were, of the Champs Elysee. Of such grandeur are the minds of some Largo officials constructed.
Highland Avenue presently is described by the city as a two-lane "rural road cross-section with inadequate sidewalks for pedestrian and bicycle connectivity with roadway pavement in need of rehabilitation or replacement, and no curb and gutter to manage stormwater."
West Bay development was approved ("Finally," exulted Gerard) and the reduction of the number of city employees through two programs - Early Retirement Incentive and Separation Incentive - is additional to what has already taken place was acted on.
The commission authorized an early retirement in January with an eye to the fiscal year 2011 budget. That portion resulted in four employees taking early retirement with a savings of $116,000.
Now additional reductions are being sought with another Early Retirement Incentive Program and a Separation Incentive Program.
The Early Retirement Incentive would be made available to employees who are in positions being recommended for deletion in the FY 2011 budget. These employees would have to be at least age 59½ and vested in the General Employees' Retirement Plan.
Those taking the incentive would get 12 weeks of pay and an equal amount of health insurance coverage.
The Separation Incentive would be for those not eligible for early retirement.
They would get one week of pay for every full year of service as a full or part-time employee, up to 12 weeks and health insurance coverage for the same amount of time.
Holmes announced at the end of the three and a half hour meeting, which included 26 items that he no longer will accept the $25 gift certificate from the city, given out at Christmas.
His "give back," while not of great value individually, is part of the $23,500 the city lays out in giving this gift to all those who collect a pay check from Largo.
When it was first mentioned a couple of weeks ago in budget talks that this expenditure could be dropped, one commission member, Harriet Crozier, almost had apoplexy. "People count on this," she said which, if true, would offer sad testimony to the economic state of city employees.
County Commission members have already voted a 4 percent reduction in their pay. Instead of making it a give back to the county, which obviously needs the money and is the reason for the cut, some of the commissioners who are taking the cut (all but one) give the money to charity, apparently so they get a tax deduction, but obviating the purpose of the cut which is supposed to help the county.
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