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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas' first public meeting on budget Wednesday



With tough fights looming, Pinellas County officials will have a public meeting Wednesday to get residents' thoughts on how to cut $60 million for the 2011 budget, their first of three meetings on the budget cuts (plus one digital townhall).

The meeting will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Palm Harbor University High, 1900 Omaha St.

The budget deficit means drastic cuts, County Administrator Bob LaSala has said repeatedly.

That means collapsing some departments into one, such as engineers in utilities and public, or maintenance crews, he recently told the Times. While the actual target is a 15 percent cut, county departments under LaSala have been told to come up with budget reduction plans of 30 percent or more by March 12.

But the largest pinch, in actual dollars, is nearly $30 million in cuts targeted for Sheriff Jim Coats office. Coats has said there's no way to weather such deep reductions and still operate as he's required. A year ago under similar arguments, the County Commissioners decided not to hold him to nearly $8 million in additional cuts that LaSala sought from Coats, cutting the county's budget stabilization fund in half.

"Last year, he didn't meet the target they gave him. Right or wrong, they gave him a pass," LaSala said.

Asked if the sheriff would meet the target this year, LaSala said: "His target's $30 million -- you tell me. Should he make it? You tell me."

Such logjams hit as the public has its own anxiety over the economy.

"We've got a very, very frustrated citizenry that is not necessarily sure of what they want right now. Except they want this to go away," LaSala said.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:27pm]


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