IRB Commission Sets Millage Rate, Braces for Cuts in 2008 Budget
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - The City Commission set a tentative millage rate of 1.51 at its meeting Tuesday night and prepared itself for budget discussions that may result in at least $100,000 in cuts.
This is slightly below last year's rate of 1.52 and it took a super majority vote to get the 1.51 rate, overriding a 1.47 mandated rate under the new guidelines established by the Legislature.
As it was, the commission was unanimous in posting the 1.51 rate, which can be reduced in subsequent budget discussions but cannot be raised under any circumstances.
At the outset of the meeting, it was noted by Mayor Bill Ockunzzi that Todd Burbine, the lawyer sitting in for Andy Salzman, was sick and needed to leave.
But Commissioner Jose Coppen was having none of that. He said he had questions he wanted to pursue and he did, inquiring on the status of a couple of ongoing matters.
On the Whitehurst case, Burbine said it was proceeding slowly in the grip of the legal gears and the same with the status of the Grieshaber case, in which the city is seeking to recover $13,000-plus.
More than that, residents want the full story on the Grieshaber matter which has many questionable angles.
Coppen asked that there be a private meeting with the lawyer handling the case, Tom Gonzalez, and the commission which Ockunzzi opposed. But colleagues joined Coppen and such a meeting will be held.
There is the suggestion that some folks would prefer that all the details in the Grieshaber matter not be revealed.
As to the budget discussions that will be held, Coppen has pointed out that increased efficiency in city operations is going to be a challenge because of the cuts in property tax inflow.
Consequently, he said, in a communication to residents, "Unless we trim some expenses, the city will have to set a higher millage rate and seek revenue sources through user fees."
One of the controversies in the city is the planning for a library. One outspoken opponent of this seemingly unnecessary outlay is Victor Wood, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Bill Ockunzzi as mayor in 2005.
Not only that, Wood has said that all but "must have" projects should be eliminated. That thinking stems, apparently, from a meeting several weeks ago where an extensive wish list was gone over by the commission.
That seemed to have the patina of pie in the sky given the crisis brought on by the tax reform that the Legislature was working on at the time.
Wood urged that "pet projects" needed to be looked at.
First on his list was the library. There has been movement on that project with plans to hire a full-time librarian.
The projected "white elephant" library is an exercise in total foolishness and a gross example of wasting taxpayer money.
Both the Largo and Clearwater libraries - modern and extensive - are less than six miles from anywhere in Indian Rocks Beach.
Pursuing the library project, in most residents' view, would be creating a money eater that would increasingly burden the city year after year. Libraries tend to expand, both in materials and personnel.
"This desire to run with the big dogs is absolutely absurd," one observer noted. "Not only are the Largo and Clearwater libraries nearby but the one in Seminole is very close also."
Wood also listed cutbacks for the Beach Art Center. This facility is used by residents of nearby communities but IRB pays the freight. The art center, it would seem, would be a prime target for user fees.
Indian Rocks Beach needs to be on guard against creating white elephants and should heed the example of Largo where its Cultural Center costs the taxpayers $10,000 a week. (That is not a misprint - it costs $10,000 a week in public funds.)
Wood also looked at city employees and recommended eliminating two positions. He pointed out that last year employees got a 6 percent raise.
"This is unacceptable," he said. "New guidelines must be found, at lower rates."
Another suggestion from Wood was to have employees pay for a greater share of health insurance, just as the private sector does. Job security was once seen as a prime reason for working for governments. Now public employees are among the highest paid with top shelf benefits.
Wood called for some courage in leadership, suggesting that members of the commission "say they have heard the people, lead by example and cut the budget expenditures."
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition