By Leo Coughlin
I am scratching my aging pate and getting a little dandruff on my very soigne seersucker jacket and wondering why the city of Largo is buying so many large flat-screen TVs.
Where are they going? What is the cost? Why?
Our agents who so inform us don't know. But they are checking.
These indeed are parlous times. The taxing units are at wit's end trying to make budgets work - make cuts? Raise millage rates? Borrow from reserves? Hope the Penny for Pinellas fund gets a little more healthy?
Officials in Largo argue over these money matters, some quoting pipe dream numbers, others focused on hard and proven numbers.
And in the quiet confines of Belleair Bluffs the budget there is going to fall about 200 grand or so short.
Sensibly enough, those who have to wrestle with the budget propose to make up the difference from the rather adequate city reserves. Why not? That could be one reason the reserve is there.
But one member of the Bluffs City Commission proposes draconian action. (Draconian - using means of great severity; from Draco, an Athenian who doled out heavy punishment for small offenses.)
In other words, if you really want to kill that fly, go after it with a French 75, not a mere swatter or rolled-up copy of the Big Paper.
Yes, draconian. Taylor Shimkus, elected to the commission less than five months ago, and barely having gotten her feet wet, calls for a 5 percent cut in pay for administration and public works officials (in other words, the City Clerk and the Director of Public Works), 50 percent cut in pay for elected officials, fire one city worker.
Well, let's see now. After one accounts for the clerk and the boss of DPW, that leaves a total of 5 city employees, all of whom are working to the max now.
And the mayor gets $500 a month, commissioners $400 a month. Total annual outlay - $25,200.
That's rolling out that howitzer, taking careful aim, andůmissing.
So Madame Shimkus's idea (the equivalent of "off with their heads; sentence now, trial later") just does not have much merit.
Anyone who has been around any time at all knows Belleair Bluffs is a tightly run ship. Working with City Clerk Debra Sullivan in the city office are two others; Robert David, head of public works, has three workers.
Not much fat there, folks.
La Shimkus came up with a quote that reminded many of Calvin Coolidge's observation that "When many people are out of work, unemployment results." Yup.
Her 2010 version of that sharp-eyed assessment was "If we keep dipping into reserves and no other income is coming in, eventually we will have no money left."
That is so inane that it requires much work in parsing it. But being dedicated, we'll give it a go.
First off, Belleair Bluffs, like every municipality, is not a money-accumulating organization. It is a city. It provides services and it uses tax money, from various sources, to provide those services.
The idea is to match income with the needs of spending and provide for a prudent reserve. The idea is not to build up huge reserves and not spend money for services.
A reserve is what is carefully built up over years to carry the city through downturns, bad times, reverses, emergencies, etc.
In Belleair Bluffs the reserves have gone from something like $1.3 million to $2.6 million in eight years. That is a doubling and demonstrates careful and prudent management.
The reserve does not exist to buy everyone a new house when the big hurricane destroys everything. If you get one of those walloping storms (the last one was in 1921), the help then comes from outside - the state and the feds and insurance (hopefully).
And, of course, if one spends what one has in the bank with "no other income coming in" then yes, one will run out of money.
But the Bluffs is far from being in any kind of situation where there is "no other income coming in." And what would be "other income"?
When hard times come, the easy answer is to yammer about cut, cut, cut. But where does one sensibly cut?
Many politicians, particularly the naive and those new to office, think that soap boxing about cuts makes a big hit with the electorate.
Not so. It has quite the opposite effect, in fact.
Regular folks out there who are struggling, too, and who vote, don't want to see hard working employees' pay cut.
Tough problems are never solved with easy and glib answers.
For novices there is an age-old adage that is worth knowing and remembering -
"A fool can sit among wise men for years on end and never be found out - until he opens his mouth."
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