Largo Staff Proposal For Art Is Turned Down
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - A staff proposal at the City Commission meeting Tuesday night for art amenities at the new $10 million Community Center crashed and burned on takeoff even though Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, kissed off the $100,000 expense as so much chump change.
While Joan Byrne, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said that a nationwide search had been launched to find suitable art for the new building, that fact apparently came as news to members of the commission who wondered why there was no local participation.
Commissioner Gigi Arntzen specifically asked if any local contact was made. Byrne said no. Again, the commission seemed to be the last to know about the art project.
Commissioner Bob Murray said he could not support it and that he thought that art should not be part of the construction of the new building.
Mayor Pat Gerard, obviously disgruntled at the way the wind was blowing so much against the project, flatly ruled out any "amateur" art when it was suggested by several members that local people - for example, from the schools - be featured.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes pointed out that the two mosaics being proposed were coming at a cost of $1,700 a square foot. He argued against spending $100,000 in a depressed economy and was amazed that the money would go to a firm out of state when no local source was sought. He also warned that the Penny for Pinellas funds, which apparently are being depended on for a lot of the spending in the city, are going to be coming in at a much lower level than had been anticipated. He cited County Administrator Bob LaSala as pointing out that the fund would be "way down."
In the overall picture, the budget woes affecting Largo - as well as every other community in the area - beginning with the 2011 budget, are bound to fall into the "you ain't seen anything yet" category.
Tax revenues based on property values will fall dramatically. According to the Property Appraiser's Office, property values could be done anywhere from 12 to 20 percent. The domino effect will reach into tax revenues severely. Programs that could be sustained in former days will go by the boards.
One such in Largo is bound to be the Outreach Program, which has provided a place for kids, particularly after school, since 1996. Now the money has run out and money cuts have eroded the program to the point where it is probably going to disappear altogether.
Ending the program, financed with taxpayer funds, raises the question as to its viability in the first place. Simply this, as the question has been put by those who have watched municipal finances over the years - "Is it the city's responsibility to provide a function like this?" Good question and one that goes along with a lot else that pertains to the bloated Largo Recreation Parks and Arts Department.
Many people question whether the city should take the expense of providing entertainment with taxpayer funds as among its major expenses.
Water, sewer, public safety and trash pickup are the major functions to be provided by the city in the view of many, but in Largo, RPA, which takes the lion's share of city expenditures, there is a lavish recreation, parks and arts programs.
So the Outreach Program, about to be ended, can no longer be afforded by the city and grants and donations are lacking. What is troubling, in the view of some, is the veiled threat that without this program there will be "trouble" in the Lake Palms section.
"That kind of non-sequitur is not helpful," one former City Commission member said. "Funding or not, people have a responsibility to behave." (Because Largo is such a small city, public figures are reluctant to be identified for fear of social retribution.)
The $100,000 for art that Schubert pooh-poohed as an expense would probably go a long way for the Outreach Program; a demonstration of what's nothing to some is a lot to others.
The commission also rejected any approval for Amendment 4 that will be on the ballot next November. It would provide for a public referendum and approval for every comprehensive plan and land use decision.
A city memorandum said that requiring a referendum for voter approval of every comprehensive plan or plan amendment would effectively halt development in the city.
In other business, Officer Kimberly Allred was awarded a Letter of Commendation for her actions last October during a threatened suicide in Taylor Park. Allred was significant in resolving a situation that could have been tragic.
Honored as Employees of the Quarter were Brian Harter, athletics program specialist, in the Parks and Recreation Department; Dawn Rossi, facility management specialist, in Public Works; and Shaun Smith, engineering technician, Community Development.
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