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Largo identifies possible budget cuts

LARGO — Last week, city commissioners saw the city manager's ideas for ways to slice $2 million from Largo's proposed $65.5 million general fund budget for next year.

City employees would not get raises.

Sunday library hours would be cut.

And the equivalent of nearly 27 full-time city positions would be on the chopping block, though job freezes, vacancies and retirements would mean only about 13 people might lose their jobs.

The largest single reduction would involve cutting a fire rescue unit from a station in the Greater Ridgecrest area, near Ulmerton Road and 121st Street. With the resulting loss of six firefighting positions, fire Chief Mike Wallace expects a savings of $526,500. A fire engine at the station would remain.

Other potential casualties include one code enforcement officer, McGough Nature Center programs and school crossing guards at three or more intersections.

Wallace said he reluctantly suggested axing the fire rescue unit because he, like other department leaders, was tasked with cutting 8 percent from his budget. And it was Largo's only advanced life support unit that receives no funding from Pinellas County.

City Commissioners Gigi Arntzen and Harriet Crozier had reservations about cutting the rescue unit at Tuesday's commission work session.

"I understand the bean counters saying, 'Here's a half-million dollars,' " Crozier said. "But I've got to think of the public safety and that's what concerns me a little bit."

Wallace said the decision won't endanger the public, but it might affect response times.

"We're not going to have babies jumping out of windows," he said. "It will simply be a reduction in the service level."

Crozier floated the possibility of using reserves to cover the cost of the unit. But Mayor Pat Gerard said she wasn't willing to dip into reserves.

City Manager Mac Craig said other people and services will have to be cut if the unit is maintained.

"If it stays, I have to come up with another half-million from somewhere else," Craig said Wednesday. "Nobody will like it. I don't like it."

Losing one code enforcement officer was another recommendation unpopular with some commissioners.

"Probably, of all of the things on the list, this one comes close to being my least favorite option, because I know how much they have to do now with four of them," Gerard said.

City leaders also worried about other cuts to the Community Development Department at a time when Largo is striving to be one of the most business friendly communities in Pinellas County.

The commission didn't squawk much about recommendations to cut the nature center hours at McGough Park or nix nature hikes, drum circles and other events there. But those cuts might draw criticism from patrons.

On Saturday the city discussed budget proposals with a group of city volunteers, business owners and residents. The city also plans a public town-hall style budget forum next week.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

.Fast facts

Public forum

Want to weigh in on recommended budget cuts? The city plans to hold a public town hall forum at 6 p.m. on March 22 in the Jenkins Room of Largo Public Library, 120 Central Park Drive.

Largo identifies possible budget cuts 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 3:31am]

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