By Leo Coughlin
While Largo's city manager, Norton Craig, and his staff are struggling with the monumental task of cutting some $3.6 million from the city budget, one department head is mounting a campaign to avoid cuts in the one department where most of them should take place.
The citizen's forum Monday at the Library was designed to get honest input from residents on cutting expenses for fiscal year 2011.
What was disturbing to many observers was the clarion call that went out by e-mail March 22 by Joan Byrne's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department.
It was obviously designed to rally citizens to the public forum Monday and its purpose was also obvious to anyone who has seen what goes on in Largo in recent years.
The move worked. About 50 or so citizens addressed the commission Monday night in the Jenkins Room at the Library about cuts in the budget. Of these, 47 were making pleas to retain all Recreation, Parks and Arts spending.
Nothing new in this tactic. Any time any of RPA's multitudinous branches is threatened with any cutbacks, a claque of supporters is mustered up and makes a lot of noise supporting expenditures for Recreation, Parks and Arts.
One has to stop and think about what the prime purpose and duty of government is, particularly when crunch time comes. And crunch time is here big time - not only in Largo but in every municipality throughout the nation.
Sagging property values are devastating revenue for cities because ad valorem taxes are consequently plummeting.
In the salad days of just a few years ago, real estate prices were rising, property values soared, revenue streamed into municipal coffers and expenditures accordingly went up.
The expectation of that spending is still present, but the income is not there to support it.
Again - a look at the prime purpose of government is in order.
These are the categories that are of prime necessity - fire protection, police, water, sewer, streets and roads, trash pickup.
What has happened in Largo, and perhaps elsewhere, is that the entertainment sector of government - i.e., Recreation, Parks and Arts has grown by leaps and bounds. Nice to have it, but none of it necessary. Obviously, because it is not necessary and is entertainment, it is the first place to look at when you make cuts.
RPA's e-mail message of March 22 signaled that budget cutting was about to happen and then got its message across, a bugle call summoning the faithful -
"…members of the community are encouraged to actively take part in (the budget forum)…This will be an opportunity for Largo citizens to provide input, voice concerns and offer suggestions for city services and budge priorities."
Get it? Show up, make a lot of noise, protect all our entertainment.
You see, these are the active citizens who vote in an otherwise apathetic population, and people like Commissioners Harriet Crozier and Woody Brown, both of whom are odds-on favorites to seek re-election, know full well that what happens now at budget time will be of fresh memory to voters in November. Monday's bugle call last week was followed Wednesday by another one.
In the projected cutbacks set forth by the city administration, the police department and fire department have been hit. Keep in mind that the fire department also provides emergency medical service.
There is no comparison in importance between police, fire and rescue and Recreation, Parks and Arts as to importance. And you can throw in the other crucial services - water, sewer, trash pickup, road and streets - as well.
No communication has gone out from Lester Aradi, the police chief, for Mike Wallace, the fire chief, to rally people protesting cuts in their departments.
They are too responsible to do so.
Craig, as city manager, has a tough enough job as it is.
During the Library coffee shop imbroglio, Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, did not keep Craig fully informed in complaints that had been received. Craig was blind sided by the information. Not good. And now, the performance of Byrne in trying selfishly to protect her own empire in opposition to Craig's efforts to trim expenditures, additionally raises the question of how well served Craig is by his subordinates.
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