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Largo starts process of combing through budget for cuts

LARGO — It's about to get a little uncomfortable around City Hall.

Starting Tuesday, the City Commission will begin the monthslong process of deciding what to cut for the 2013 budget to deal with falling property values without imposing a big tax hike.

City administrators have identified about 24 full-time equivalent positions the city might cut next year, bringing about $2.8 million in savings.

Some of those positions are vacant, but 11 are filled by people who will lose their jobs unless city commissioners make changes before September. Some of the 11 will watch Tuesday night and through the summer as commissioners decide who stays and who goes.

"It's certainly not the best situation for anybody," said Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert.

The city staff has dropped from 938 full-time equivalent jobs in 2007 to 875 in 2012. If the commission approves management's recommendations, that number would drop to 853 next year.

"Most employees have been pretty good about it," Schubert said. "They understand the situation."

Commissioners will almost certainly make changes. A few have already spotted a line item they might vote to nix, such as $75,000 to be spent on $125 gift cards for city employees in lieu of raises.

"That's somebody's job," said Commissioner Bob Murray of the $75,000. "I don't think there's a city employee who wouldn't agree keeping a person's job is more important than gift cards."

All seven commissioners will get a chance to weigh in on the proposed cuts at Tuesday's meeting. City management released the proposals last week, and the commission will decide Tuesday which cuts to keep on City Manager Mac Craig's proposed budget, which will be released by July 1.

Even then, though, nothing is final until the commission approves a budget in September. The 2013 budget goes into effect Oct. 1.

Largo police Chief John Carroll has asked commissioners to reconsider the reductions proposed for his agency. Carroll has six officer positions vacant. He'd like to fill three of them, but city management has recommended keeping the spots vacant for another year.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes thinks Largo should be increasing the police budget, not cutting it.

"I'm almost to the Nikita Khrushchev point of banging my shoe on the dais about it," said Holmes, invoking the image of the former Soviet leader. "That's absurd to me."

Murray and Mayor Pat Gerard weren't as emphatic as Holmes, but both said they didn't like the proposed police cuts.

Also on the chopping block are seven groundskeeping positions, five of which are filled. Those jobs would be outsourced.

City management also recommended Recreation, Parks and Arts fee increases that would bring an estimated $101,200 in additional revenue next year. Among the fee hikes: Cultural center event ticket prices would go up $1 and summer camp weekly fees would go up $3 per family.

Joan Byrne, director of the Recreation, Parks and Arts department, called all the fee increases reasonable but acknowledged she has concerns.

"I'm worried that we're getting too expensive, just in general," she said. "But everyone is out looking for more money."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Largo starts process of combing through budget for cuts 05/12/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 12, 2012 4:30am]
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