LARGO -- When the Largo City Commission last week was asked to approve $330,130 for a highly sophisticated system for the new library's checkout system, it was obvious that members felt they had been blindsided.
And some of them made no bones about it.
Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager who is the library maven, explained in presenting the proposition to the commission that $300,130 of the money to pay for the system was coming from "contingency funds" in the the library's construction budget.
"Contingency" is generally regarded to mean "unexpected," "emergency," and stuff like that.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier seized on this.
"Why is this coming from the contingency fund?" she asked. "Why was it not budgeted?"
Schubert explained that in the early budget allocations the city staff was not sure they could afford this system, but things have worked out so well, he said, it has developed that the sophisticated system, called "radio frequency identification" (RFID), can now be afforded.
Steve Stanton, the city manager, chimed in to say that "We made a conscious decision not to include it in the original budget, and decided to wait." Now, it turns out, he said, we can do it.
Mayor Bob Jackson did not cotton to the idea at all that a high priced item should be smuggled into operation.
"We're about $300,000 short on raising the $1.9 million fund goal for furnishings and equipment (for the library)," he said. Jackson added that it might be wise to sacrifice this expenditure of about one-third of a million dollars "in case something else comes up" -- like a contingency.
Schubert assured the commission that the fund raising effort would reach its $1.9 million goal. Expenses in pursuing that fund drive are currently listed at $248,300 (over four years), 13 percent of what is trying to be achieved.
One observer commented that "they could have gotten George Feaster to run the fund raising drive and hired an assistant for him for less than half of that."
There is a separate $2,083,000 allocation in the budget for the $23 million library furniture, fixtures and equipment.
It was clear that Jackson's thinking was that if the RFID system was to be purchased it would certainly come under the category of equipment.
"That impact on the furnishings budget would have wound up with you coming back to ask us to make up a $300,000 shortfall some place," Jackson said.
Commissioner Pat Gerard said, "Leave the remainder of the contingency fund alone." It now has a balance of $286,662.
Commissioner Charlie Harper echoed that. "It's typical to spend every penny budgeted. I don't want further expenses out of the contingency fund. This is not a contingency."
Unspoken but palpable in the atmosphere was the idea on the part of the commission, at least those who voiced opinions, was that they had been had, that an item had been hornswoggled into the expense picture and that they should have been informed early on that the RFID purchase was a possibility.
In any event, it got 7-0 commission approval.
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