By Leo Coughlin
In a parade ground voice (that sweet Arkansas drawl was missing), Norton Craig, Largo's city manager, was insisting that large amounts of money would be coming to Largo from the Penny for Pinellas fund over the next 10 years.
There is a belief, among some, as I understand it, that the louder one talks the more true the assertion will be. (And, parenthetically, almost 60 years in this business has told me that the loud voice and aggressive interruptions in a conversation almost always denote an element of fear and lack of confidence.)
It is a very tenuous thing to predict the future. And the future of the Penny for Pinellas - or LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) - fund is crucial to Largo. Maybe others, too, I don't know; but absolutely crucial to Largo.
That is because the city, in the words of Kim Adams, the Finance Director, has projects totaling $57,700,000 lined up, all of which depend on LOST income over the next 10 years to pay off the loans already made and that will be made.
Curiously, Adams did enumerate in a memo to the City Commission projects that did total $57,700,000 but then in the next sentence wrote that "the projected costs for the above projects is $50 million - $53 million." Go figure.
One of the enumerated projects listed by Adams is the Highland Recreation Center reconstruction to which he assigns a cost of $21 million.
That raised a question among many observers (the more you look at this stuff, the more questions pop up) of why that price is $6 million more than what city administration officials said the cost would be.
A check of the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) document showed that, on page LR 17, the project is listed at $15,400,000.
After being pressed, Adams cleared up the discrepancy when he produced what purports to be more or less exact figures and, sho 'nuff, the figure is $21 million.
The preceding page in the CIP document lists the income expected from Penny for Pinellas up until the year 2015.
Of course, no one knows to a certainty what the Penny fund, collected and administered by the county, will develop. It is impossible to tell the future, so anything projected is a guess.
But one wonders if the Largo guessers took into account the parlous economic times, and their calculations were made, for the most part presumably, before the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf.
That singular tragedy has sent tourism reeling in all of Florida (that is why the state has those panic stricken ads all over national television). And a great part of the LOST funds come from what tourists spend here. That extra penny on the sales tax really adds up, normally.
Well, take a look at Page LR 16 in the CIP and you see that Largo projects $6,616,100 coming in from the LOST fund in fiscal year 2011, the first year of Penny for Pinellas III.
Then, in successive years - 2012-2015 - the figures are $6,421,900; $6,614,600; $6,813,000; $7,017,400.
That adds up to a total of $32,986,000 and that means that Penny for Pinellas will have to come up with $39,014,000 from 2016 to 2020 in order to meet the total Craig so assuredly predicts.
An average of $7,802,800 in each of 2016 to 2020?
In the latest Penny for Pinellas fund, ending this fiscal year of 2010, Largo received $61,186,252 and those were mostly good years. The disaster began in 2008.
So Craig believes that Largo income from the LOST fund will be 27.5 percent better on a yearly basis average (2016-2020) than the average from 2001 to 2010?
In a memo to the City Commission July 8, in an attempt to rebut figures that Commissioner Curtis Holmes had put out the previous week, Craig wrote, "The latest information indicates that the projection for Penny Three (2011-2020) is approximately 72 million dollars programmed for the City of Largo."
Wonder who he's talking to?
The county in its own public information disclosure on the LOST fund for the next 10 years predicts a 12.6 percent decrease.
Overall, Craig predicts a 17.6 percent increase in Penny income for Largo. County down 12.6 percent; Largo up 17.6 percent. Someone is wrong, and if it's the City Manager the consequences are catastrophic.
The trouble is, as any county official will tell you, is that any percentage change in Penny funds is across the board. If the county is down 12.6 percent so is every city and entity that will share in the fund.
During a recent discussion on LOST projects, Commissioner Mary Black asked where the money to pay off loans would come from if Penny for Pinellas does not produce the projected revenues?
Adams answered - "The shortfall will be made up from the general fund." Now that is ominous.
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