Holmes Issues Stark Concerns on Largo Finances
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Commissioner Curtis Holmes this week put a sharp point on what he sees as a worsening financial situation for the city with a message to his colleagues on the commission that constitutes somewhat of a bombshell.
Holmes set out in writing a list of concerns, he said, "that we need to consider prior to our budget discussions in August."
Much of what Holmes mentioned in his memo might be stuff other commission members are aware of but could come as news to taxpayers in the area.
"It's widely reported," he wrote, "that next year the State of Florida will have to cut its budget a minimum of $6 billion. I asked Kim Adams (Largo Finance Director) what effect this may have on Largo? Paraphrasing him - '…if they maintain the revenue sharing formula we can lose six million dollars to the general fund.' $6 million is a loss of roughly 9.2 percent of general fund revenue. That's staggering!"
Holmes then expressed his concern with the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST or "Penny for Pinellas"). "I think we're over committed on the LOST revenue. Again this information is based upon my chat with Mr. Adams. Largo's previous LOST revenue was projected at $90 million over a ten-year period. This estimate was lowered to $70 million and is now lowered to $55 to $60 million over the same ten year period."
He pointed out that these reductions are based on the general economic downturn but went on to say, "My concern is these pro forma revenue figures do NOT include the soon to be realized revenue reductions due to the ongoing oil spill. Tourism in Florida is tanking and will not return for years to come."
Holmes listed the projects that the city is committed to and pointed out that the list was not all-inclusive. "There are more commitments than this - $11.5 million to the Community Center, $15-plus million to rebuilding Highland Recreation Center, $25-plus million for various vehicle purchases (over the next decade)."
"By my math that's $51.5 million MINIMUM in LOST fund commitments."
Pointing out that he was citing in his memo issues he had already pointed out, Holmes said that while the only job of "municipal government is public safety, police, fire and sanitation," he noted that "I do not want to get into the situation Clearwater (Police Department) and the Sheriff's Office find themselves in, and that is, they're laying off police officers."
He zeroed in on the situation with Largo's Parks, Recreation and Arts Department.
"Largo is hemorrhaging money in the Parks Department. To cite but a few examples -
"1. The Cultural Center currently receives over $9,000 a week in subsidy.
"2. At the Golf Course, we're scheduled to 'invest' an additional $4,800 per week.
"3. At Southwest Recreation alone we're subsidizing to the tune of more than $7,700 a week.
"4. We're planning on spending more than $640,000 on playground equipment.
"These are ENTERTAINMENT venues and NOT included in the mandatory job description of municipal government."
Then Holmes cited a recent response from Mayor Pat Gerard to a citizen who had expressed, in e-mail to City Hall, concerns over how tax dollars are being spent.
"I'm keenly aware," he wrote, "of the standard response we e-mail citizens who voice a concern, or protest, about the spending of their tax dollars on this type of venue, quoting it - 'The commission has to make its decisions, however, based on what most of the people want, not just a few.'"
Holmes pointed out that "Most Largo citizens do not play golf, most of them do not use Southwest Recreation, most of them do not purchase tickets to various Cultural Center performances and I could continue. Let's be honest about it - when it comes to entertainment expenditures we do base our spending decisions on what '…just a few want.'"
The Holmes memo may take on some explosiveness. This is the first time in memory that an elected official has taken such a strong and open stand on city spending policy.
"It's not my intention to 'remove all joy from Largo,'" he wrote, "but it is my intention not to financially ruin it. As the elected policymakers, the success or failure of our city is in our hands, not the staff or the administration. It's our responsibility! Our decisions alone will make or break Largo, thus we'd better think long and hard before rubber stamping all this spending."
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