By Leo Coughlin
Who among us, in our youth, did not experience the joys of the playground?
While the theme among hard pressed governments has been budget cutting, penny watching, gnawing knuckles in these parlous financial times, Largo proposes to spend a half million dollars-plus on a playground.
It was a quite different in the great long ago with the country still suffering from the Depression and financing for playgrounds at most at the lowest sustainable level.
There was an ancient and very large swing set up and a see-saw that had been around for a long time. A lot of used baseball gloves and balls and bats filled out the equipment.
None of it would have passed muster for the spenders in Largo where the expenditure of huge gobs of money don't seem to faze either most of the electeds or the staff.
Keep in mind, most of the staff have lived off public tax funds most of their lives and that kind of existence is a far cry from those who have to scramble on a daily basis for a buck and who exercise much more caution on how those dollars leave their grasp.
Another factor, when it comes to spending tax funds, is that the electeds in Largo (and maybe elsewhere as well) just don't understand the dynamic of government, which is this -
In a city like Largo, the staff, from the top down, is dedicated to spending and they are not evil for this approach. They believe in making things better, bigger, improved and first class. And that is an approach that Steve Stanton, the city manager up until 2007, brought to Largo. As much as possible in terms of equipment was new.
At the same time, most of the electeds don't understand (or at least give no evidence of understanding) that their job is to guard the public treasury; to be stingy; to be parsimonious (a word most them will have to look up); to throw nickels around like they are manhole covers.
This doesn't happen, so the appeal from someone like Joan Byrne, director of Parks, Recreation and Arts, that Largo has the best playground for miles around is listened to.
I give Byrne credit. She is a scrappy lady who fights for her bailiwick and it shows in the city's budget ($25 million to her department, if I am not mistaken).
Joan is for building, expanding, improving, making better, replacing anything slightly worn. She is a virtuoso at getting the commission to okay expenditures and holding the line on what is already being spent (exempli gratia, $10,0000 a week for the Cultural Center).
Entertainment - lugging folks off to gambling casinos, to far off restaurants, and the like - is the number one industry in Largo. It is not a destination city, but the residents are constantly lured with a new library, a new community center, the aforesaid Cultural Center.
The matter of the playground was well researched when it came to the commission at a work session last week.
Two options were presented. The first constituted refurbishment with the admonition that the price quotes were oral and could vary. A figure just below $400,000 was given. The second option was replacement and this had some sub-set choices.
Only Commissioner Curtis Holmes evinced any opposition to spending the large amount of money regardless of which way was taken.
Commissioner Mary Black, usually very cautious in the spending of public money, advocated that there be replacement of equipment and other amenities.
That course called for all new play structures, new fencing, new surfacing, protective bollard additions, lighting, new gates and the attendant costs of demolition of old stuff and installation of the new.
Black pushed for the fencing that called for a vinyl fence with artificial turn on the ground. That has a price tag of $647,000 it is that cost that elicited the comment from Holmes that he had "sticker shock."
One can always argue that nothing is too good for us folks in Largo. And much of this spending is being done with anticipated money from "Penny for Pinellas." Some pray that it comes through. Essentially, that is borrowed money, which makes many nervous.
But looking at who does what, kudos has to go to Byrne because by her lights she is more than getting the job done.
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