Analysis Evokes Query of Where $400,000 Goes in Huge Largo Subsidy
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - For years, when the City Commission met on budgetary matters, the 300-pound gorilla in the room - never mentioned but glaringly in mind - has been the Cultural Center.
To use another animal reference, it has been a white elephant since its beginnings, high blown as an idea but the equivalent, in Largo, of existing on a champagne diet with a beer pocketbook.
White elephant means something whose maintenance costs far more than its reasonable use.
And that describes the Cultural Center to a T - a nice thing to have, but not worth taxpayers' hard earned money to keep going.
The price of having this expensive bauble in its inventory used to cost the city a subsidy of $10,000 a week. That cost is now down to something like $8,000 a week (about $400,000 a year). It is hard to believe that the City Commission accepts such figures - an outlay over and above the center's income - with nonchalance.
And the notion goes beyond the absurd when one considers that the city administration has tried to persuade the City Commission to okay cutbacks in police and fire & rescue.
That leads to the question: Is the city's priority focused on important and traditional public safety services or entertainment?
A review of Largo's budgetary expenditures over the years reveals some very frivolous outlays. One such is the annual cost of sending one commissioner - the same one every year, Harriet Crozier - to something called a Road-e-O where drivers of the city's trash trucks congregate with similar types from other cities to apparently demonstrate their techniques.
Crozier, who apparently has become the mascot of the city's solid waste disposal department over the years, will go to the event in St. Augustine this year at the end of this month. The cost is some $491, not much, but significant in these days when every buck counts. The funding comes from a boondoggle fund set aside by the commission that contains $9,000.
This is taxpayer money. Put another way, the money is coming from folks who cannot afford a two-day sojourn at $115 a day in a hotel that Crozier will be enjoying - merely for a fun trip.
Not to be overlooked also is the cost of sending personnel and city trucks and equipment over the road. The possible liability gives one the shivers.
But the main drain of unnecessary expense for the city remains the Cultural Center.
A review of figures supplied by the Cultural Center under the title of "Cultural Center Performance Analysis Headliner Acts and Children's Series" includes 38 performances from 2007 and 2008.
Profits on the performances in this listing are $59,655 against $41,112 in losses for a net plus of $18,543. Those kind of numbers barely sustain the idea of the center as an entertainment site.
The most pathetic revelation in the figures is the income from concessions, which in most cases average much less than a dollar per person at each performance.
And in some cases, the numbers are very curious with some shows listing no revenue at all.
What is amazing is that the Cultural Center rocks on year after year, eating up vast quantities of taxpayer money and commission members seem totally oblivious to this black hole.
Except for the newest member of the commission, Curtis Holmes, who raised the issue last week. He is the first member and only member of the commission who has ever questioned the financial viability of the Cultural Center.
Citing the Cultural Center figures described in this article at last week's work session meeting, Holmes pointed out that there seemed to be a bare profit but then asked, "So where is eight thousand dollars week going?"
He did not get much of an answer. Henry Schubert, the always nervous assistant city manager, sputtered something about "overhead, management costs, salaries," but was very indefinite in terms of any solid answer.
The question is who does know? And if the answer is so obscure, the Cultural Center is long overdue for a thoroughgoing audit. There is no indication that one has ever been done.
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