LARGO -- Money -- the getting of it, the spending of it; the inflow, the outflow -- is the focus of all elected officials these days in Largo.
As the struggle with the budget that appears to be requiring a one mill tax increase continues, the distraught commission, anxious as virgins over the 27 percent increase it may have to impose, spending -- even in small amounts -- takes place with insouciance.
On Tuesday evening's agenda was an item okaying the expenditure of upwards of $4,000 for a three-day junket for 57 percent of the commission. To be exact, the $3,995.98 was for the benefit of four commission members; the other three couldn't make it, presumably, because they have real day jobs.
This whoop-de-do was an outing to Hollywood on the suspect east coast for the annual orgy of the Florida League of Cities.
Later in Tuesday's meeting was another expenditure, $2,650, to be dribbled out over the 12 months beginning October 1 next and that goes directly into the pockets of the mayor and commissioners.
In defiance of an old and trusted maxim that you don't add to your own pocket while draining the gold from the public's, the commission voted itself a three percent raise.
Commissioners Charlie Harper and Gay Gentry voted against. Pat Gerard was absent so escaped any chance to heap praise or ashes upon her.
This means Largo taxpayers will pay $163,825.48 for the comfort of its elected officials in 2005's budget, a sum $2,650.88 greater than the current expenditure for same.
This, of course, does not count the side benefits allocated to the elected brethren, something on the order of at least $6,671 apiece, an outlay the public rarely -- if ever -- hears about. (An amount that will go up another $560 next year.)
Maybe that sum of upwards of $50,000 is chump change in a city budget that is nuzzling at expenditures of $120 million a year.
But during the recent sessions devoted to examining the 2005 budget, the smallest and tiniest of items were looked at, questioned, agonized over.
Few cuts were made. The Finance Advisory Board (why do they bother having it?), going into this budget season, made a substantial and substantive list of recommended cuts. Included was the forgoing of any raises for the commission.
None of the recommendations for cutting, etc., as far as anyone can tell, has been adopted.
The Florida League of Cities extravaganza in which the mayor, Bob Jackson, and three commissioners, Jean Halvorsen, Harper and Gentry, frolicked for three days has made some observers wonder.
Was this a boondoggle, an outing for pleasure, or a trip for business, all part of the grinding days legislators must endure? Why did four representatives from Largo have to go?
Keep in mind, the Florida League of Cities is not a governmental entity. It is a private organization, principally an insurance company and lobbying institution for cities and towns in our hurricane-beleaguered state.
Keep in mind, each one of our representatives was required to ante up a registration fee. Here it gets confusing because two claimed a registration expense of $525, another $575, and a third $565.
Jackson claimed three nights at $140 each at the posh Diplomat Hotel, as did Gentry, while Halvorsen ensconced herself in the luxury accommodations for four nights. The program of delirium began Thursday, continued Friday and ended Saturday, so why more than two nights for anyone were needed in the hotel is questionable.
Keep in mind, a caravan of cars wended its way across the midriff of Florida to reach fabled Hollywood and the glitterati for this three-day outing of fun and frolic and expensive victuals and comestibles to be gotten down.
To gang up in one vehicle was out of the question. Why? Spouses were along, which makes the whole thing a boondoggle, a pleasure outing.
That's a total of 2,064 miles at 37 cents a mile. Total out of taxpayers' pockets -- $763.68. Was any thought given to economy?
What is the purpose of the FLC outing? To see and be seen; there is no discernible benefit to the city.
"Why" one observer, conscious of money and the husbanding thereof, "couldn't one person have gone -- if any -- and saved maybe $3,000?"
While his companions were spending $1,100-plus each, Harper managed the trip for little more than half that amount. He was the likely candidate to go and he alone. Or, why not just send the mayor?
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