IRB Settles on a Budget After Questionable Struggle
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Confusion, lack of proper procedure, wrestling with numbers, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul - all were part of the circus in Indian Rocks Beach September 19 as the City Commission finally set a millage rate and adopted a budget.
If nothing else, the procedure highlighted the pitfalls to be found in the small communities in Pinellas County where the municipal body obviously exists for the benefit of employees.
This is a notion sounded loudly some years ago by the late Chris DeMaio who was then on the Belleair Beach City Council. He was so right, it seems.
When you consider Indian Rocks Beach - virtually a hamlet, a village of maybe 6,000 residents - and the top administrator is being paid upwards of $100,000 plus benefits, top city staff is hauling away top salaries the idea springs forth that what is this expense all about?
It appears IRB is going to dip into its reserves to the tune of well more than $500,000 in fiscal year 2008. The commission adopted a 1.4695 millage rate, within the guidelines set forth by the Legislature's diktat.
But come January and the statewide referendum which will include the idea of a super exemption and villages like IRB may be in deep trouble indeed.
When Commissioner Jose Coppen earnestly tried to point out some of the over-spending dangers in the city's 2008 budget last week, he was foreclosed.
Like something out of Alice in Wonderland a motion was made, seconded and a vote immediately taken. In the real world, discussion and debate of a motion are included. But not in Indian Rocks Beach.
Even the voice of Ed Piniero, a former mayor and commission member and skilled in the ways or parliamentary procedure, was heard from the audience supporting Coppen's right to a discussion.
But it was as a voice in the wilderness and ignored.
Plans laid about the budget at a September 5 meeting and agreed upon, were abandoned at the meeting last week.
Something, to paraphrase the poet, is rotten in IRB.
Maybe it is the dangerous behind the scenes tactics used by city managers (and county administrators) to meet with elected officials singly, put together a secret consensus and then ram through whatever is desired.
There is nothing unlawful in the appointed executive meeting singly with elected officials. But it is dangerous and should not be allowed. It amounts to government behind closed doors.
The complications and Byzantine turns and twists of what went on in Indian Rocks Beach last week give definition to the words arcane and complicated.
"I believe that the budget adopted will eventually have serious negative impacts on the residents of our city," Coppen said. "I tried and worked hard to identify and save unnecessary expenses but the majority ruled."
Amateurs are tasked with the responsibility of spending millions of other peoples dollars (more than $7 million in IRB's case) and they obviously are not up to it.
One of the things Coppen wanted to do last week is have the commission vote on significant expenditures so that the taxpayers would know the spending habits of those they put on the commission in the first place.
Instead, a hasty vote, to adopt the budget (almost sight unseen), was taken. ("Vote now, said the Queen, discussion later.")
One citizen, witness to the proceedings, said "It was the worst budget process I have ever seen."
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