Largo Commissioners Play Safe and Pick Services Over Tax Cuts
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Harriet Crozier, at least, had something at stake, but four of her colleagues also heeded the politics of the electorate and refused to follow state mandated tax cuts as the Largo City Commission began work on the 2008 budget.
Crozier is up for re-election in November and apparently wants no criticism as a hard-nosed tax cuts advocate, although that seems to be what people have been screaming for in recent years.
Because the law allowed it in an almost overlooked provision, Largo commissioners took advantage of a super majority provision that allowed them to avoid deep cuts on the political judgment that Largo citizens want services rather than lower taxes.
Voting against the idea of overriding what the Legislature recommended were Commissioners Mary Black and Andy Guyette. No doubt they didn't recognize the political judgment that guided the other five. And perhaps they have an eye on the 2008 election when both may well be candidates for re-election.
Whether the judgement to spend rather than to cut taxes made by Crozier, Mayor Pat Gerard, and Commissioners Gay Gentry, Gigi Arntzen and Rodney Woods is correct is nigh impossible to discern in Largo, a place where the word apathy was invented. Largo folks - with few exceptions - just don't care.
So the commission settled on a millage rate of 4.0126 late in July, a rate that is subject to be changed on the down side, but cannot be increased.
Given increased property valuations, the rate adopted - the rollback rate - will raise about the same amount of money that the current rate, 4.2758, raised.
Had the state mandate been ordinarily followed the commission would have set a millage rate of 3.65 which would have produced about $2.8 million less in operating funds.
This would have required cuts - perhaps closing the library on Sunday, closing two nature parks on weekdays, ending children's outreach programs and not funding the annual fireworks display (which literally attracts tens of thousands every year).
While five of the commissioners were attuned to the politics of budget spending and danced furiously to avoid cuts that might offend citizens, at the same the commission as a whole entertained - much to the dismay of many observers - the idea of spending $60,000 for a memorial to Martin Luther King.
There is no black constituency in Largo and the city is not and has never been a hot bed of civil rights feeling, so the only apparent reason for even taking the King memorial seriously is that commissioners were bamboozled by one of their own, Rodney Woods.
Think of it - seriously thinking of spending taxpayers' money to please a colleague on the commission.
One citizen, Curtis Holmes, now a candidate for the commission in November's election, has been a sharp critic of spending much needed funds on the King thing and instead urged that the money go to building much needed sidewalks.
Ironically, building sidewalks was the war cry of Woods when he first was elected to the commission in 2006.
Apparently that zeal has been forgotten in favor of a long dead civil rights leader who played a historical role to some degree, but has no connection whatever with Largo.
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