Largo Commission Okays Millage, Budget; Action Over Union Cuts Looms
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - It will be interesting to see if Michael Krohn, lawyer for the Police Benevolent Association, follows through on his comment to the Largo City Commission that there will be legal action if the city insists on breaching its union contract.
If the PBA does sue and the Communications Workers of America, the other union which represents the rest of city employees, joins in then the city may have considerable cost.
Largo's city attorney has assured the city that it can go down the path of furloughs and cutting hours, moves which have the net effect of cutting pay and thus demolishing what was negotiated in union contracts.
Under the three-year contracts, executed a year ago, 4 percent raises are called for. The city will comply with granting the increases, but on the other hand will take them away with the revised working hours.
If there is court action, the one sure winner is the city attorney, Alan Zimmet, and his law firm. He is the only one to wangle a raise out of the city in these economically parlous times - approximately $10,000 a year.
The firefighters contract, now in negotiation, runs out at the end of this month. Fire union officials are adamant against a wage freeze and say furloughs wouldn't work with their schedules and staffing requirements.
The ball is now in Krohn's court because the commission last Thursday approved the fiscal 2010 budget (now called tentative but will be final on September 17 with virtually no changes) which included nine unpaid days off for those union employees.
Both the millage rate of 4.3113 - the rolled back rate - and the total budget of $159.2 million were approved on 6-1 votes with only Commissioner Mary Black against and she opposed what she saw was violations of the union contracts.
Black wanted to keep the millage at the current 3.8448.
Despite the 12 percent increase in the rate, most property owners will pay the same bottom line in taxes because the rolled back rate is designed to raise the same amount of revenue as was raised in the previous year.
Rates don't mean much in paying taxes as to increases or decreases - what one pays, the bottom line is the definitive statistic.
Property values in Largo plummeted by 11.6 percent in figures for fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010.
Many citizens implored that there be no change in the rate, including Bob Jackson, former mayor, who said the change was done to maintain a large city surplus of funds which he said is not needed.
One businessman complained to the commission about the valuation of property he managed from $786,000 last year to a new figure of $4,700,000 and the subsequent increase in taxes he will pay.
But he was in the wrong forum. Municipalities have nothing to do with property values. This is done by the Property Appraiser's Office. In this particular case the increase in taxes based on Largo's rates means the business will have to pay $4,000-plus more.
Henry Schubert, a Largo assistant city manager, explained that the earlier valuation was done before the property was improved by construction.
Largo has been hit with extra outlays in police and fire pension costs of $1,400,000, a $600,000 increase in health insurance premium costs and an extra $274,000 in workmen's compensation assessment.
The city has had 16 catastrophic claims in excess of $25 million which explains why health insurance premiums have gone through the roof.
By granting no raises - with the notable exception of the extra $10,000 going to Alan Zimmet and company - the city saved $1.7 million.
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