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Largo city staff will explore borrowing to build new community center

The question of debt for the new community center still is up in the air.

City commissioners spent about a half hour debating the issue Tuesday night. They voted 3-2 to authorize exploring options to borrow money to build a $10 million center near the Palms of Largo campus.

But the majority of the seven-member commission must approve such a decision. So, Largo leaders will take up the issue again at the next commission meeting Dec. 15.

Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Mary Gray Black opposed the borrowing. Commissioners Harriet Crozier and Robert Murray, who previously supported borrowing the money, were absent.

The project is "nifty," Holmes said. But he doesn't think it makes sense to borrow money for something that's not a necessity, when there are more immediate needs such as the planned $73 million sewer system overhaul.

"I don't care how you cut this," Holmes said. "It is a luxury."

The borrowing is outlined in the budget, but Black said "the budget is a guide." She suggested prioritizing other projects and using current Penny for Pinellas funds for the new center.

The current plan is to repay the loan with Penny for Pinellas funds over the next decade.

"If we deferred all we feel is responsible to defer, we could not generate the $10 million," said Kim Adams, the city's finance director.

Largo would have to wait until 2015 to accumulate those funds, he explained.

Mayor Pat Gerard, Vice Mayor Woody Brown and Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said they were ready to move forward with the new center, which has been discussed by the commission about 20 times since January 2008. Both Gerard and Brown said they think it will cost less to build the center now than to do so in five years.

"I think we can afford to responsibly borrow this money," Brown said.

Even though approval is likely, the issue still may not be resolved with a vote later this month. City commissioners also will have to approve the borrowing agreement after a lender is chosen.

In other action, the City Commission approved an agreement to provide fire protection for Belleair Bluffs at an annual cost of $244,225. The city will also lease a fire station and a fire engine from Belleair Bluffs. Largo city leaders had approved a temporary agreement while the cities negotiated the five-year contract.

Largo city staff will explore borrowing to build new community center 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 10:00pm]
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