By Leo Coughlin
His colleagues on the City Commission, the city administration and the public should heed, and heed well, the figures presented by Commissioner Curtis Holmes on the financial situation in Largo.
Holmes put out a stark memo June 30 painting a grim picture of Largo's financial future.
The latest wrinkle came last week.
Apparently there is a disagreement over numbers.
City Manager Norton Craig, the employee, rebutted, with the aid of the city's finance director, Kim Adams, the contentions of Holmes, one of his employers.
But a look at the numbers - those that are sure and known, and those that are only guessed at but put forth by the county - favors Holmes.
Overall, the financial picture in Largo as it is throughout the state and for the state itself, is not encouraging.
The economy, already in a tailspin with ad valorem revenues plunging because of falling property values, is now exacerbated in Florida because of the oil spill, which is having a devastating affect on tourism.
Much of Florida exists on the tourism dollar and this is particularly true in Pinellas County where the "Penny for Pinellas," the popular name for the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) fund, will see a severe drop in revenue.
Largo's Craig and Adams, if you believe memos they put out July 8, don't think this is the case. They are cheerfully optimistic, predicting an increase in LOST revenue for Largo even greater than the past 10 years, which were relatively prosperous and not plagued with what the economy has experienced in the past couple of years.
The oil spill is still many miles away and though beaches from Pensacola to Panama City have been "oiled," and the State of Florida is running "desperation" tourist ads on national television, folks around here are whistling in the dark - and hoping.
Hoping hope against hope that the oil doesn't come here and that the tourists don't completely disappear.
Also whistling in the dark, in this corner's observation, are those who are not taking the darkening financial situation in Largo with great alarm, particularly Craig and Adams, judging by what they put out last week.
The dispute over Penny for Pinellas funds is just the latest dark cloud being cast over Largo finances. It seems folly to believe that Largo will reap 17.6 percent more in the next 10 years than it did in the 2001-2010 period while the county is predicting a 12.26-drop.
Holmes has been warning about the spending and the borrowing that is supporting several projects the city now has underway.
Reading the Adams memo of last week that supported Craig's contention that all was well leaves one scratching one's head in wonderment.
In a memo ostensibly created by him and signed by him, Adams lists projects that by their individual numbers as given by him add up to $57.7 million and then in the next sentence he writes that the projects add up to $50 million to $53 million.
Did Adams read his own memo? Does the city's finance director have an adding machine that goes awry?
Most of the figures concerning the future center on guesswork. There is no doubt about that. But nevertheless, the county says it expects a drop of 12.26 percent from its original estimate of $1.9 billion expected to come in from 2011-2020.
The 12.26 percent - or any number that becomes solid, good or bad - will apply to all jurisdictions in the county.
Largo received $61,186,252.10 from Penny for Pinellas in the past 10 years. Except for the last two years, those were relatively prosperous years. How can anyone possibly believe that the city will get $11 million or so more in the next 10 years?
One would hope that would be the case. One prays that would be the case. Those who now sound the warnings pray to be wrong.
If county predictions are correct and if the economic future goes where it seems to be going, Largo has already over-borrowed by many dollars to fulfill the obligations it has taken on.
In the meantime, only Holmes on the City Commission has expressed concern. If he is correct, all the others of his elected colleagues who remain silent should be swept from office when the occasion arises.
In the penultimate sentence of his puzzling and mistake-ridden memo, Adams writes - "All things considered, the city is well positioned to face the fiscal challenges ahead."
He better be right.
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