Largo Commission Braces to Make Crucial Cuts in City's Budget
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The bottom line on a long and involved memo about tax reform and how it affects Largo is that there will be a $3 million reduction in general fund revenue for next year's budget.
Pretty small potatoes, really, in a city where lavish spending has been the rule in recent years.
But nevertheless, the prospect of reducing employees in the city has made City Commission members nervous. Keeping their jobs is always uppermost in their minds.
On the personnel situation, Mayor Pat Gerard signed up on the sympathy list for employees who might be in jeopardy.
"Among our priorities, laying off as few as possible, should be a goal," Gerard said. "We know we don't have any fat."
That declaration of abstemiousness was quickly followed by this declaration by the seemingly often confused and muddled mayor - "We shouldn't fill positions that are not essential," a statement that led some listeners to believe that some sort of contradiction had just taken place.
Jonathan Evans, assistant to the acting city manager, prepared the memo that was discussed at the June 26 work session meeting.
All the facts are not in yet, and officials made it clear that lots more number crunching will be done, but it does not appear that "there's blood on the floor and blood everywhere" (from cuts) as one source opined.
Most of the cutbacks to bring the fiscal year 2008 budget in line with the Legislature-ordered reduction in tax revenue will come with a hiring freeze. Fewer job cuts than had been first anticipated will take place.
While the Legislature mandated that spending be frozen at 2007 levels, more cutbacks will come if a referendum in January is approved by voters.
This would involve a constitutional amendment that radically changes homestead exemptions. This move would so favor property owners it is hard to envision them not approving it.
Essentially, the January referendum (which needs 60 percent of the electorate approval throughout the state to become law) would rescind the 3 percent cap on tax increases now in place and would set up a new schedule of exemptions.
As Evans explained it, properties valued at $200,000 or less would be taxed on 75 percent of their value while those more than $200,000 would have a 15 percent exemption.
The current $25,000 universal exemption would end.
Both Evans and Henry Schubert, the assistant city manager, stressed that the new tax system is totally different and faces even more changes with the January referendum.
"When we have had situations in the past," Schubert said, "cutbacks very often have been temporary to get through a given situation. The cuts that will be made in this upcoming budget will be permanent and there could be more cuts if the referendum is passed."
The tentative budget for fiscal year 2008 was put into commission members hands on Friday. Schubert said at the June 26 meeting that the important objective was to identify priorities for cutbacks.
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