LARGO – As expected Largo commissioners agreed to a millage rate for the new fiscal year and to the budget which it represents. The millage rate is set at 4.999 and the total budget is just under $138 million.
Budget manager Amy Davis told the Commissioners at a special meeting Sept. 20 that the 4.999 rate is an increase of about $42 a year for the average homeowner. She said the increase was necessary because in the past five years property taxes had dropped by 31 percent and other revenue sources hadn’t kept up either.
Largo resident Michael Reichold spoke in favor of the increase. “My condo value has dropped to half the value of my mortgage,” he said. “But still I don’t want to see any layoffs or any more cuts in services. I support the increase.”
On the other side of the argument was resident Geoff Moakley.
“The downturn in our economy won’t end anytime soon,” he said. “We still have more people on staff than we need. We need to hold the city manager’s feet to the fire; the city should not be giving out automatic pay raises.”
In response to that Mayor Pat Gerard said the city does not give out automatic pay raises: “In fact our employees have not had a raise in three of the past five years.”
Commissioner Curtis Holmes was the only commission voice against the increase.
“I noticed today gas has gone up 5 cents a gallon,” he said. “It is the folks we have to think about. We can try to disguise this any way we want, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it is a tax increase. I will vote no on this again.”
Commissioner Robert Murray disagreed.
“People have said to me that they do not want any more services cut, they want their services maintained. I think this is the way to go. We need to persevere and not have to endure cuts year after year.”
The millage rate of 4.999 passed by a vote of 6 to 1. Holmes was the lone dissenter.
Holmes was joined by Commissioner Michael Smith opposing the budget amount of $138 million. In introducing the budget, Manager Amy Davis said this was the sixth consecutive year that the budget had been cut. She said the amount included a $2.5 million reduction and 22 staff positions spread over all departments.
Resident Robert Hunsicker, who is running for City Commisson Seat 4, was against the budget.
“Taxes are going up at a time when we are cutting our public safety positions,” he said. “We should take the Largo golf course and sell it to private interests or at the very least make it self-sustaining.”
Commissioner Holmes agreed.
“The problem with the budget as I see it is that we are still funding a lot of entertainment,” he said. “We have cut fire positions, we have the lowest ratio of police officers per population in the Bay area, yet we are still funding these entertainment venues. If we had the money I wouldn’t mind, but we don’t.”
Commissioner Michael Smith said he opposed the budget because of the shortfall in staffing at the Fire Department, particularly cutting the per shift manpower at Station 43 down from 4 to 3.
“I will have to vote no on this,” he said.
The budget passed 5-2 with Holmes and Smith dissenting.
The commission unanimously passed the budget for the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment Agency. Florida law dictates that a CRA, while part of the incorporated city, must have a separate budget. That budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $531,500.
Just before she adjourned the meeting Mayor Gerard remarked: “I’m hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a light at the end of the tunnel.”