LARGO — City commissioners approved Largo's tentative 2011 budget Monday night, relying on a variety of measures to reduce general fund spending by $3.5 million, the largest cut since the city began reacting to reduced revenue in 2008.
The largest individual money-saving measures came from reducing police and fire pension plans and freezing employee salaries.
Police and fire pension adjustments are expected to save the city $770,000, and halting raises is expected to further reduce expenses by about $600,000.
The city department that undertook the broadest array of cost-saving measures was the parks department, which won funding to keep the controversial closure of the George McGough Nature Center from moving forward, but accounted for a third of employee layoffs.
Some of the reductions by the parks department have been criticized by the mayor and commissioners for relying on increased revenue to reduce costs, rather than actually cutting services or programs. Some of those proposed revenue sources include increasing fees for services like youth sports and summer camp, as well as a $5 increase for recreation facility membership cards.
While city Recreation, Parks and Arts director Joan Byrne has said in the past that reducing its expenses by increasing revenue should keep the department within budget, the strategy has been met with skepticism from commissioners.
"Those projections, they're overly generous," said Commissioner Curtis Holmes, one of the most vocal critics of the parks department budget strategy. "I don't know how they're going to do it."
Holmes said he also feels that other city projections have been overly rosy, such as income from the local option sales tax levied within Largo.
"I think the city is counting on chickens for eggs that haven't been laid," Holmes said. "If the city administration is wrong, it's catastrophic. If I'm wrong, it's wonderful."
The local option sales tax depends on people spending money within the city — an uncertain prospect during a recession — that required city planners to estimate.
The budget will be up for final approval at 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at City Hall.
Dominick Tao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org at (727) 580-2951.