Largo Commission Hears Capital Spending Plan That Totals $182,746,400
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO – The City Commission heard at its work session Tuesday night from a parade of 13 city staff employees on plans to spend $182,746,400 on capital improvement projects over the next five years – 2010-2014.
Before taxpayers initiate an en masse movement out of the city, they can be advised that the plan is a “wish list.”
“This is like a kid from a family hard pressed for cash sitting on Santa Claus’s lap and hoping,” one observer, a former commission member, said.
The CIP was presented by city staffers with carefully crafted supporting documents that constituted a paper blizzard.
It would be impossible in any reasonable space to give a comprehensive view of the spending that is contemplated – over and above general operating expenses in a city that has a budget that is already under severe strain.
But some items of interest do leap out and make one wonder.
What must be kept in mind (thankfully) is that the CIP is actually a wish list at this point. It is a planning document in the nature of “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this, that or the other thing.”
Nothing is authorized yet; no money has been appropriated.
Among the project in the CIP is the Highland Avenue improvements which could ultimately cost anywhere from about $5 million to $8 million.
However, there are quiet back channel rumblings from the City Commission that this extravagance is going nowhere. Members of the commission are backing off any idea of approving something that, in the view of many citizens, is just simply not needed.
Proposed expenditures rely heavily on the Local Options Sales Tax fund, more popularly known as Penny for Pinellas. It is a tax that adds a penny to purchases made in Pinellas County for projects that require capital funds. The current tax has life until at least 2020.
A perusal of the some of the spending charts submitted to the commission Tuesday evening turns up some interesting tidbits.
For example, in fiscal year 2010 (it begins this coming October 1) the CIP proposes to spend a total of $24,231,600. Of this, $15,900,000 (65 percent) will go to the Parks, Recreation and Arts Department for what is described as the “Highland Recreation Complex Reconstruction.”
“Allocating a whopping sixty-five percent for a recreation project seems crazy, given the financial circumstances these days,” one observer said.
The Parks Department is taking another $850,000 in 2010 for electrical upgrades ($200,000) in Central Park and “playground replacement” ($650,000) at Central Park.
Those additions bring the Parks Department share of the CPI pie in 2010 to 69 percent – something many observers think may be out of line.
One comment was, “Sure, we need to spend money for necessaries and capital projects are always needed . . . but totally new reconstruction at Highland? Playground replacement? The commission might need to exercise some kind of priority.”
Another expenditure – vehicle replacement for the Police Department – raises questions. In successive years, 2010 through 2014, those expenditures (again, a wish list) are listed at $1,040,500, $1,165,900, $1,035,900, $1,195,200, and $993,600, respectively.
At an average of $1,086,220 a year over those five years, many wonder how this could be justified. Even at $50,000 per police car with all its accoutrements, that would amount, on the average, to almost 22 cars per year. Can something like 110 new cars over five years be possible?
The next step, after this revelation of an extensive wish list to the commission is the official adoption – which means, in essence, a legal acknowledgment of the plan without any hard decision on spending – of the CIP.
That must be done by May 1. Projects that are approved will then be incorporated, initially, into the city’s overall budget for fiscal year 2010 which must be completed by September.
A question looming over it all in the minds of citizens who follow city affairs closely is how extensively commission members will discuss, question and examine the spending plan.
The track record indicates that most of the seven commission members are so many “bobbleheads,” questioning little and passively letting the city staff spend and spend.
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