More Creates Less As Largo Commission Checks Annexations
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - More is meaning less in Largo.
Translation - Annexing areas into the city is diminishing police effectiveness.
This came to the fore last week (a week that might be remembered for the City Commission finally taking some leadership in an otherwise drifting city) on the question of the latest annexation proposal.
The issue came up with the proposed annexation of property along Roosevelt Boulevard at 59th Street.
While the city grows in territory, the additional land does not return enough in taxes and other fees to cover the cost of additional services - notable police.
Chief Lester Aradi, whose department already has the lowest ratio of officers to population in the area, says the annexations drain police resources.
He has 137 officers in a city of 75,000. That is 1.8 officers to every 1,000 residents. Other local jurisdictions have rations above 2.
In other words, many of the annexations are nothing more than a shift in policing authority, straining an already strained Largo Police Department.
In what appeared to be a mindless comment, Mac Craig, the city manager, said he thought the annexation should have been approved because the area was part of a $1 million state grant for beautification.
As one observer said, "What long term liability has to do with a temporary splash in the pan is a mystery. Largo pays a penalty in the long run."
Craig was not having a good week with a once pliable and compliant commission. Two days later, the commission upended his plan to cut the pay of police officers and other city workers by decreeing furloughs - days off without pay.
Part of the policing problem, Aradi pointed out, is not just added territory to cover, but the demographics of the areas being brought into the city and into his department's jurisdiction.
Very often the areas have low income housing and residents are transient and he said there are noticeable increases in things like gang activity, thefts, code enforcement, drugs, domestic violence.
Vice Mayor Gigi Arntzen raised the question of whether the Police Department reviews annexation plans before they are brought to the commission. A memo submitted with the annexation in question indicated that procedure was followed but the facts dictate otherwise.
The commission decided to take a look at annexation policies and discuss them in a December meeting.
Meanwhile, the City Commission was not in session this week. But city officials were meeting behind closed doors with the fire fighters union.
Amy Davis, the city's budget guru, says that an anticipated 2 percent raise for firemen is built into the FY2010 budget, but with the commission having reversed the furlough scheme resulting in 3 percent raises for other city employees trouble my lie ahead there.
A year ago, when the police and other workers union contracts were approved the economic crunch was clearly on the horizon. The commission apparently was oblivious to that and that resulted in the agony over the PBA and CWA contracts in the last several weeks.
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