Holmes Takes Issue With Largo Parks Mustering Support
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Reacting to an e-mail that the city's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department sent out Monday, Commissioner Curtis Holmes on Tuesday was sharply critical, calling the message in the e-mail "out of bounds."
These developments came on the eve of the City Commission beginning Tuesday night to take on the awesome task of cutting some $3.6 million from the city's fiscal year 2011 budget.
That task, in itself, is enormous and City Manager Norton Craig and his staff outlined in detail proposed cuts that the commission began wading through Tuesday night.
Craig's work on the cuts looked at all city departments and demonstrated a meticulous review of all expenditures.
Some of the cuts could be seen as drastic.
Included are cutbacks in fire and police service, which Holmes has flatly ruled out, and Mayor Pat Gerard has raised strong objections.
It was in that atmosphere that Holmes's message Tuesday morning to Craig and his commission colleagues was triggered.
The e-mail Monday from the recreation officials, sent out on the authority of Joan Byrne, director of the department, pointed out that the city was faced with budget cuts and that the open forum for the public next Monday at the library would be an "opportunity for Largo citizens to provide input, voice concerns and offer suggestions for city services and budget priorities."
Of course, if the business next Monday is the contemplation of cutting portions of the 2011 budget, the session should not become a lobbying effort from citizens to protect Recreation Department projects.
RPA's message concluded with this - "Take an active role in your community and plan to attend this important event."
Past performance indicates that is what this sort of thing turns into.
Byrne has been able to get many to rally for support of her department.
It has been the practice in Largo that whenever any cutbacks are threatened in the Recreation Department's bailiwick, an outpouring of citizens show up to pack a commission meeting and make a lot of noise in opposition.
The RPA message of Monday was seen as such a "bugle call" (a term Holmes used in his statement).
"Heck. You don't think recreation was drumming up people to support cuts or come up with ideas for cutbacks do you?" one veteran observer said.
Citing RPA's Monday e-mail, Holmes said in his message to Craig and his colleagues, "Knowing the financial obstacles that we are confronting and diligently trying to deal with fairly, please tell me the benefit of the announcement from RP&A to their supporters."
A former commission member said, "If Joan (Byrne, director of RPA), were being honest, her message would have said 'show up at the public forum to protect our recreation programs against cuts.' Instead, the message was put in the false guise of urging citizens to be helpful in making cuts."
This was Holmes's exact point.
"Next Monday we are asking the community to give us suggestions, perhaps even direction, on how they think we should CUT $3.5 million from the budget. Note the key word, CUT the budget."
Holmes raised the key question this way - "By RP&A sending out this type of 'announcement,' some have called it the proverbial 'bugle call,' are we really going to get suggestions from them on how to reduce the budget or will we merely get pounded with 'don't cut my program?'"
He pointed out how he had attended a county budget meeting two weeks ago and said that while speaking with Chairperson Karen Seel he mentioned how surprised he was "that so many folks had gathered around the County Parks Department table."
Holmes said that Seel's response "was quite revealing." She said, "They're all from Heritage Village."
Later in the meeting he said, "There was a total of three of us who offered money savings ideas, ALL the others merely pounded away at why Heritage Village should be left alone and/or espoused the virtue of the programs run at the park."
It is hard to believe that Recreation, Parks and Arts would avoid cuts (all the programs are non-essential and basically entertainment) while police and fire - the first responsibility of government - face drastic, and some think, dangerous cuts.
In any world of common sense, it is the non-essential (and this describes RPA) that goes first. What householder cuts the food bill to maintain money for movies, going to ball games and trips to the beach?
Tuesday night's meeting - a work session - came down to exactly that - struggling with the idea of drastic cuts in the Police Department and Fire & Rescue.
There were recommendations also for cutbacks in Recreation and Parks by Craig and his staff.
And Craig's plan decrees that there be no pay raises. That appears to make the pending contract with the fire fighters moot as far as compensation is concerned.
The commission has a difficult struggle on its hands and will meet again after the Monday public forum. At least one commission member said before Tuesday night's meeting that no cuts should be made in police and fire and that RPA should be heavily cut.
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