IRB Commission Continues Struggle But Budget Issues Still Unresolved
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - City Commission members wrestled with the city's 2008 budget Monday night for three hours, making very little progress, and then in a flurry of activity in the last hour and more of the meeting made cuts.
Things that had been part of a "wish list" on the part of some commissioners, including the mayor, went by the boards as the reality of dipping into reserves to support expenditures became apparent.
Commissioner Jose Coppen has been adamant in his opposition to take $230,000 from city reserves to balance the budget.
A budget hearing is scheduled next Tuesday and any of the public who shows up will get to see more struggling by commission members to contend with reduced revenues in a year that saw mandated trims by the Legislature.
Even more cuts are possible when voters throughout the state vote on a referendum in January. That has many city officials nervous. Nobody knows what will happen.
Very few substantial cuts have been made in this city from a budget that, at one point, contemplated spending $468,000 more in 2008 than is being spent in the current year.
That 16 percent increase, Coppen pointed out, would double budget expenditures in four and a half years if it were maintained.
Sheriff Jim Coats was on hand to help the IRB budget makers. He offered some modifications in the coverage his department would supply for policing and this would cut the contract by about $30,000.
The city is really in a position where every little bit counts. Included in these "little bits" is the $25,000 instead of $32,000 to be allocated to the Beach Art Center.
The artsy-craftsy crowd - those who want to spend taxpayers' money on their hobby horses (Largo is a prime example of this where $10,000 a week is spent to keep the doors of the Cultural Center open) - is using Indian Rocks Beach taxpayer money to support the art center, where 72 percent of the membership lives outside IRB.
One project that bids fair to become a white elephant, or a "black hole," as Coppen calls it, is the planned and unneeded library.
The commission allocated $20,000 to a study of the library in fiscal 2008, but the goal is obviously to creep along and make it a fait accompli. That is, one day, taxpayers wake up and there it is - a constant drain of money.
In future years, planning calls for sums in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a library and as one observer pointed out, "This needs to be fought every step of the way. Indian Rocks Beach just cannot afford a library. Let's face it - we can't run with the big dogs. We just can't do it."
Action in Monday night's meeting was fast and furious in the last hour or so after several hours (and several previous meetings) of little action and very little progress.
By the time next Tuesday rolls around the budget makers will probably have sorted things out and taxpayers - the only ones who really count - may have some idea of what some of their elected officials plan on doing.
Some, despite the financial crunch of these times, still have big spending ideas.
"It's easy," one observer said, "to be a big spender when it not your own money."
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