INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - For whatever reason or reasons, the ideas of Commissioner Jose Coppen to get Indian Rocks Beach's budget in better shape did not fly at the City Commission meetings last week.
One concern Coppen has, as he has expressed in his regular communications to city residents, is the state of the city's reserves.
He points out that the city has used more than half a million dollars in its reserves to fund operating costs. That is the equivalent of a household raiding its savings or a business its capital to pay ongoing costs.
Reserves, in a city budget, are not an accidental element. They are, or should be at least, a budgeted item that fills a specific purpose. That is, money put aside for emergency purposes.
Even though property values in the city, according to Pinellas County, have gone up 30 percent, Coppen points out that there seems to be lot of difficulty in lowering the millage rate which now stands at 1.7811.
As the budget meeting of September 5 approached, Coppen listed 30 suggested cuts that would have lowered the overall budget by 20 percent.
But instead of making progress, the commission, to Coppen's obvious chagrin, held one of its usual meandering sessions that ended in an impasse with Commissioners R.B Johnson and Ed Piniero holding out with the former refusing to go lower than 1.7811 on the millage rate the latter pushing for 1.4659.
With Coppen struggling for a compromise with Mayor Bill Ockunzzi and Commissioner Jim Palamara a figure of 1.6921 mills was reached.
Among the projects Coppen wants to postpone are these - Keegan Clair Park improvements ($200,000); Chica-Si Park improvements ($50,000); some Municipal Auditorium renovations ($50,000); city hall renovations ($20,000); neighborhood beautification, plantings, dune walkover ($60,000).
Coppen, an MIT grad who has had extensive business experience, wants to delete $110,000 in depreciation expenses in the sewer and solid waste accounts that he says he thinks should go to reserves, not be used to fund other operations.
He also wants to eliminate the $10,000 set aside for the city manager as a merit increase.
Also on the Coppen cut list are shirts for non-uniformed employees and commissioners. He calls this "frivolous at taxpayers' expense."
He says, "Some individuals are budgeted to receive five shirts a year. This might sound nickel-and-diming but as they say: 'a few thousand dollars here and a few thousand there and pretty soon you are talking real money!'"
Coppen would also reduce by $2,000 the per diem and travel allowance for the city manager. "His yearly budget to attend conferences is higher than for the five commissioners."
He continues to call for televising the commission meetings, a project Coppen has pushed since he took office, but on which foot dragging is performed with the expertise that only an entrenched bureaucrat can exercise.
Start up costs for televising, Coppen has pointed out time and again, has already been provided by Bright House. Lamentations that the money can't be found are foolish and non-responsive.
Also on the Coppen "to do" list is designating the triangle area as a Community Redevelopment Area and establishing the tax increment funding that goes with such an endeavor. His pleas on this item seem to fall on deaf ears.
IRB will holds its second and final hearing on the fiscal year 2007 budget next Wednesday beginning at 7:30 p.m.
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