LARGO - Largo's commissioners stuck to their resolve to raise taxes in the coming year in a county where talk grows more and more of a tax revolt.
Meeting last Thursday rather than at their regular Tuesday time, it took a socratic method of questioning by Commissioner Mary Black to get the city staff to admit that, yes, there would be a tax increase in fiscal 2007.
So the rate stays at 4.2758 mills which was the rolled back rate last year. Increased valuations push the amount up to be paid by property owners. Black tried for a 3.7 rate but that failed.
Black's close questioning came after Commissioner Harriet Crozier tried to make the case that the city was imposing the same millage rate and any increase taxpayers would pay was the county Tax Appraiser's fault.
While the struggle - much of it in the area of syntax - ensued, commissioners at the meeting unhesitatingly granted themselves a raise, following the generosity they showed a couple of weeks ago when they gave City Manager Steve Stanton a 13 percent raise that makes him a $150,000 annual earner.
The mayor now will be compensated at almost $26,000 a year while commissioners' financial reward amounts to just short of $20,000 a year.
The meeting had some other side issues that add fuel to the dissatisfaction of many observers who are in dismay at the antics of the commission.
For one, Commissioner Andy Guyette, drawing on his military expertise as an enlisted man in the Air Force, found it perfectly all right that Stanton had insulted Sgt. First Class Christine Hughes, a member of the armed forces who appeared at a commission meeting in her uniform.
Guyette's comments, stated with all the certitude of back of the school bus logic, came after Black suggested in the strongest terms that Stanton apologize for his gaffe.
Guyette, in direct contradiction to the military authorities who are Hughes's bosses, opined that anyone showing up at a government meeting in uniform had an intimidating flavor to them. Many are wondering what world Guyette inhabits in his mind. Only the oldest of Largo residents recall such intimidation that was brought to a high art by the late Heinrich Himmler and other assorted Gestapo figures.
Then, at the end of the meeting, the ever alert Gigi Arntzen, who may be new to her elected seat, but has the rugged experience of many election campaigns helping others, used her watch dog powers to wonder how come that new fence - once forbidden by the City Commission - has been erected along the road that skirts Central Park and connects 8th Avenue to West Bay Drive.
"Who ordered it?" Arntzen wanted to know.
"I did," a rather sheepish Stanton admitted, and added, "Yeah, we replaced more than we should have."
Arntzen could have pursued the subject but Stanton, cowering with his fingetips steepled, pulled back into his shell and this no doubt aroused Arntzen's compassionate instincts.
But it can be pursued here.
The area in question on Central Park Drive had come up before. The fence there that separates the road from a residential enclave was pushed for rehabilitation a few years ago. Pat Burke, then on the commission, lived in the residential area.
Nothing doing, the commission said then. When money for a new fence was put in the budget a few years back, the commission categorically instructed Stanton to remove it (much to the chagrin of the aforementioned Burke).
Lo and behold (and in a striking and strongly illustrative example of how Largo works), when the budget was brought back to the commission for final approval, the fence expense was back in the budget.
This gave rise at the time to speculation that Doctor Stanton either was hard of hearing, did not understand plain English or is just plain defiant.
Stanton's excuse at the time was that he had "forgotten" to take it out.
The latest work on the fence, now complete, was never discussed by the commission or, to anyone's knowledge, earmarked in the budget.
Stanton, on tenterhooks as the last election approached with fear that he might be given walking papers, apparently figures he is riding high now as a result of March's polling which took all the heat off him.
One Largo citizen, who follows city doings very closely, wondered if the commission did not authorize spending the money for the fence, did Stanton break the law?
"After all," this personage said, "It is my understanding the commission must approve via the budget all spending. And in this case, Stanton was given specific orders not to do that project."
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