LARGO -- The Largo City Commission went at it again last Thursday night hammer and tongs, the second meeting in the week devoted to reviewing the 2005 budget.
Every instance in which Mayor Bob Jackson could not see a way to cut expenses drew nearly yelps of pain from him. Every dollar being spent, it seems, is like cutting a piece of living flesh from his body.
At one point, in a discussion on median maintenance, Jackson said, "I'm not interested in increasing this budget, I am interested in cutting it."
Going into the budget review, which has been intense, if not painful for the mayor and commissioners, a tax increase of a mill was expected. Jackson has not swallowed this concept and is struggling to hold any increase to a minimum.
A mill in Largo raises $3 million, so cutting amounts like $30,000 represents a reduction of one-100th of a mill, not a tenth as Jackson indicated. Chipping away in small bites leaves little visual accomplishments. But Jackson thinks like a banker and knows pennies make dollars.
Jackson and his colleagues are conscious of public attention to budget matters. Up until last year, Largo went 11 years without a millage increase.
If nothing else, the city has growing pains. A dedicated plan of annexation incorporates the idea of additional expense, as well as possible additional revenue. More city means more service -- more police, more public works, more general services, more paperwork.
Like a guy looking forward to a raise to ease current financial tighness, Jackson pointed out that down the road -- perhaps in 2006 -- more revenue will be realized with annexations and property transfers that have taken place.
Steve Stanton, the city manager, is a by-standing moderator of the proceedings, a St. Francis conducting Wagner as it were, gently advising and mollifying, obviously trying to damp down the urge to get panic stricken over that increase in taxation. A politician would rather lose a finger than raise taxes.
Jackson gives away his anxiety. He has the habit of playing with his tie, rolling and unrolling it, when he is nervous or maybe his brain is racing at a high rate of speed.
The library wanted 11 additional people. Clearly a case of the chickens coming home to roost. Building the 90,000 square foot, $23 million library was a swirling controversey a couple of years ago. Now, with the library due to open next June, it's time to pay the piper. The commission settled on 8.
Commissioner Charlie Harper's idea, in respect to the library, was to get some of the work done with overtime hours, avoiding additional permanent personnel with their attendant benefit packages.
On top of that, the book purchasing budget has been cut back. Stanton says the promise has been to make that up. So more additional expense looms ahead.
Right now, the library has 51 employees. Harper wanted to curtail the additional number. In the face of pleading arguments from the library director, Barbara Murphey, Harper threw in the towel -- "Okay," he said, "let's hire 11 more people."
Murphey will be gone -- retired -- next August and, given everything, is probably the happier for that.
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