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Largo okays budget with tax rate set at 4.56 mills

LARGO — Pat Edmond doesn't think she pays enough in property taxes, and she wanted the City Commission to know. Edmond moved to Largo eight years ago from Connecticut, where she says her tax bill was three times higher, but she got much less for the money.

"There were no parks, no community center, no rec centers, no cultural center," Edmond, 63, told commissioners at Tuesday night's meeting, during the discussion of the city's 2012 budget. "I'm feeling pretty darn grateful to be in the city of Largo … I don't think you're charging me enough."

Edmond, a retiree and president of Friends of Largo Nature Parks, was quickly countered by several other residents. Geoff Moakley, a frequent critic of city spending, compared Edmond to a well-known investor who has advocated higher taxes on the rich.

"If Warren Buffett from Connecticut wants to pay more taxes to the city of Largo, she can certainly write out a check," Moakley said, before urging the commissioners to vote down city management's proposal to increase the tax millage rate from about 4.31 mills to about 4.56 mills, the rolled-back rate.

Moakley and the other residents who criticized the proposed budget were on the losing end, though, as were Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Mary Gray Black. The commission approved the $64.8 million general fund budget by a 5-2 vote for the second and final time.

The rolled-back rate will bring in roughly the same amount in tax revenue after accounting for lower property values. For example, the owner of a home valued at $100,000, after any exemptions, will pay $25 more in property taxes in 2012, provided their home's value didn't change.

Black and Holmes reiterated their problems with the budget — Holmes with a lengthy prepared statement that repeated his opposition to continued funding of the Largo Golf Course and Cultural Center.

Mayor Pat Gerard has said that residents she hears from support continuing to subsidize the Cultural Center, to which Holmes said, "I imagine that would be the case, because these are the folks who are using the facility … Considering that I do not run with the wine-and-cheese crowd, I hear the hardship stories, the complaints of their tax money being wasted."

Gerard, who works for a social services agency, took offense.

"I'm not sure who the wine-and-cheese crowd is, but they wouldn't have me. I don't drink wine," she told Holmes. "Every single day I'm in contact with people who are hurting … and I can tell you that the kinds of things that we are supporting in our budget, like parks and the library … are exactly the kinds of thing that people need when they don't have any money to take their kids to the movies."

Also at Tuesday's meeting:

• The commission approved a five-year contract extension for BMG Cafe Inc. to continue running the Golfview Cafe, as long as Largo Golf Course is still run by the city. The contract gives the city the ability to terminate the arrangement early. In 2012, the commission will consider turning the struggling course over to private management.

• City Attorney Alan Zimmet responded to Commissioner Black's repeated calls to terminate his contract.

Black contends that Zimmet and Assistant City Attorney Mary Hale do the same work. Zimmet earned a retainer of $199,016 in 2011 to work part-time for Largo. (The city paid his firm an additional $214,532 for other work.) Hale, who works full-time for the city, earns $63,814.

Zimmet explained that he and Hale handle different specialties and said that anyone who thinks that one person could do all the legal work for Largo "unfortunately doesn't have a very good understanding of the work we do. Spend one day with us … and you would understand that it is not possible for one person to do all of that work."

Black did not accept the offer to visit.

"I have not visited his office downtown, or wherever he is that he actually does the work that his paralegals research," she said.

Black, who has called for Zimmet's ouster repeatedly throughout the budget discussions, is alone in seeking his dismissal. Several commissioners supported Zimmet Tuesday night.

"Don't fix a clock that's working," Holmes said.

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

Largo okays budget with tax rate set at 4.56 mills 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 4:31am]
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