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Largo leaders want to hold the line on city salaries, bump up tax rate in 2012

LARGO — The City Commission moved halfway toward passing the 2012 budget last week, while nixing a policy that would have given four employees pay raises, unbeknownst to commissioners.

As part of their budget-cutting efforts this year, city commissioners agreed that no city employees should get pay raises. The logic: Times are tough for everyone, so while the city cuts things like Sunday hours at the library and 23 staff positions, it shouldn't spend more on personnel.

Commissioners told city management to keep salaries for nonunion employees the same and to try to negotiate wage freezes with the unions.

But Commissioner Harriet Crozier noticed a policy in the 2012 budget documents that seemed to clash with that directive. Employees in certain positions with seven years' experience and good evaluations get their salaries bumped up to the midpoint of their pay range, provided they aren't already earning that much. Pay ranges are determined by market surveys.

Under that policy, four city employees — two in the Recreation, Parks and Arts department, one police dispatch supervisor and one solid-waste supervisor — were eligible for raises that would have cost the city $11,500 combined.

City commissioners were not happy. Every employee should be recognized, or none," Gigi Arntzen said before the commission voted 6-0 to delete the policy. (Vice Mayor Robert Murray was absent).

In other action:

• Training and travel budget. The only other major change the commission made to the budget was a $20,000 reduction to the amount city management had planned to spend on training and travel, dropping the amount to $440,400. Commissioner Mary Gray Black requested that funding cut among five motions for budget amendments; all the others failed for lack of support.

Commissioners other than Black and Curtis Holmes mostly supported the rest of the $64.8 million general fund budget.

Property taxes. Black and Holmes voted against city management's recommendation to adopt the rollback tax rate of about 4.56 mills, up from this year's rate of 4.31 mills.

The rollback rate keeps tax revenue for the city level after accounting for changing property values. With values dropping an average of 4.5 percent in Largo this year, an increase would be needed to bring in $14.4 million in ad valorem tax revenue. Largo had $14.3 million in ad valorem revenue this year; the extra money in the 2012 budget is the result of new construction and annexations.

Subsidies. Holmes argued, as he has in the past, that Largo spends too much on nonessential services.

"We're still going to subsidize a golf course. That's entertainment; that's not part of the city's bailiwick. We're still subsidizing a cultural center," he said.

The City Commission will consider in early 2012 leasing out the Largo Golf Course, which needed $200,000 in city funding in 2011 to stay solvent and will need another $150,000 next year. Mayor Pat Gerard disagreed with the rest of Holmes' complaints, though, and said she thought a majority of Largo residents agree with her.

"I've heard, 'We like what you're doing. We wish you could do it cheaper … but we don't mind paying a few extra dollars in our property tax to keep the things that we have here,' " Gerard said before voting in favor of the rate, along with Crozier, Arntzen and Woody Brown.

The City Commission will vote once more on the 2012 budget and tax rate, at its regular meeting Sept. 20, before both are finalized.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo leaders want to hold the line on city salaries, bump up tax rate in 2012 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 4:31am]
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