INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - The witching hour for the budget in Indian Rocks Beach, much struggled over, is at hand.
The City Commission meets today and a final determination has to be made.
Meanwhile, commissioners nervously look around to see if the seat belonging to the city manager, Al Grieshaber, is occupied.
Grieshaber's latest foray into the job market appears to be in Manatee County where he was given a thumbs downs for having, as the Bradenton newspaper described it, the "hardest negatives."
Grieshaber has been turned down on job after job after having been officially hired in Indian Rocks Beach only at the beginning of this year.
Members of the ICMA (International City Managers Association) usually adhere to the ethical standard of not looking for or taking a job until at least two years after they have been newly hired.
Grieshaber seems to have ignored this nicety, but then, he is not a member of the ICMA, although the city charter specifically requires that its manager be a member. Grieshaber has been on the job in IRB more than a year, beginning as an interim replacement for John Coffey.
As to the budget, there is a strong sentiment in the city for not making too deep a cut in the millage rate.
Jean Scott, a former member of the City Commission, said that in spite of the tax revolt that is rising in Pinellas County, there must be care taken to see that damage is not done with extreme tax cuts.
"The popular strategy," she says, "seems to be a rush to judgment demanding immediate cuts in all directions with the single goal of slashing taxes. This unchecked, wholesale slash and burn approach is simply political pandering to the loudest voices."
She points out that drastic cuts will take years to recover from as vital city services go by the wayside. The burden will be even heavier in the future, she predicted, when they need to be restored.
While Scott emphasizes a quality of life argument, Commissioner Jose Coppen, who has given the budget very close scrutiny based on his experience in a lifetime of business, says he is a fiscal conservative and believes in budget control.
He is not among the slash and burn element bemoaned by Sccott.
Coppen says that slashing the budget to the rolled back rate, limiting the revenues to the same level as last year, would be irresponsible because of the escalation of fuel and materials, the increase in city salaries and the need to restore the city's financial reserves.
"Last year, we used up approximately $200,000 of our reserves, which came on the heels of dipping into reserves for $300,000 the previous year (2004)," Coppen said.
But Coppen sounded a cautionary note in saying that "we should not jeopardize basic services by slashing taxes." This put him in agreement, at least this extent, with Scott.
Now the final reckoning is at hand. Commissioner R.B. Johnson has held to the level-of-service standard while Ed Piniero, joined by Jim Palamara (like minded pals of long standing), push for keeping expenses at the current year's level, despite increases that cannot be gotten around.
If there is no compromise by the contending views, the millage rate will be 1.6921 which was the figure approved at the first reading. That number can only go lower, not higher.
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