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Largo struggles to find, trim fat

The mayor balked at an idea to let only competitive swimmers use the Southwest Pool in winter months.

Times (2010)

The mayor balked at an idea to let only competitive swimmers use the Southwest Pool in winter months.

LARGO — Winter swimming at the Southwest Pool and hikes at McGough Nature Park may have escaped the budget chopping block. The same may be true for one of Largo's four code enforcement officers.

Last week, city leaders told City Manager Mac Craig that they didn't want to cut those items from next year's budget.

He asked for direction as he hammers out his proposed 2011-2012 budget, due by July 1.

Mayor Pat Gerard bristled at one of Craig's early proposals: closing the Southwest Pool to the public from December through March while maintaining access for competitive swimmers.

"I still have a really hard time cutting the winter swim at Southwest Pool and keeping everything we need for everybody who isn't a resident of Largo — swim teams, dive teams," Gerard said. "I mean, come on. And it's $10,000."

She and other commissioners also suggested keeping programs at McGough park and all code enforcement officers.

But commissioners were willing to make some reductions to compensate for items they want to keep. Last week, they talked about cutting crossing guards at several intersections that are rarely used by young children.

Craig originally proposed slashing about $2.19 million from the general fund budget, which is estimated at $65.5 million. The commission's suggestions would decrease proposed general fund cutbacks by about $66,700, said Amy Davis, the city's Office of Management & Budget manager. She'll offer commissioners some alternative cuts at Tuesday's work session, she said.

The largest single reduction, a Ridgecrest area rescue truck at Station 39, is still on the hit list. It is Largo's only advanced life support unit that receives no funding from Pinellas County. The station now has two emergency vehicles — the rescue truck and an engine. Fire Chief Mike Wallace says the cut would save the city $526,000. Six firefighter positions would be eliminated.

The city manager has also proposed cutting three firefighter positions, one for each shift, at Station 41. The cut would leave one firefighter on the squad unit, which provides tools that help crews fight fires and extricate people after vehicle crashes.

The department has seven vacancies and expects two other firefighters to retire next year, Davis said.

"No person currently employed will lose their job," Wallace said Friday.

Commissioner Woody Brown said he could stomach cutting the rescue unit from Station 39, because he felt Largo taxpayers have been supplementing county protection. But Brown said he'd like to see what the city could do to keep the unit at 41 intact.

There still are a couple of unknowns, Davis said: health insurance premiums and property tax revenues. According to very early estimates, tax revenues are down about 4 percent.

In other action last week, city leaders:

• Voted to limit how many campaign signs candidates can retrieve after they're collected by code enforcement from illegal locations, as well as other election provisions. A second vote is required to solidify the changes.

• Directed the staff to negotiate a contract with Webster Environmental Associates to try to find the source of odor that has plagued part of Paradise Island mobile home park off and on for years.

• Voted to maintain City Attorney Alan Zimmet's annual retainer of $119,016. His firm also receives an hourly rate of $170 for litigation and other tasks. He asked for no increases. The city manager and mayor praised Zimmet's competence and reputation.

• Granted initial approval for the city to donate several properties to provide homes for the needy. If the commission grants final approval, a home on Adrian Avenue will be donated to Catholic Charities and three small vacant lots near Ridge Road and Fourth Avenue NW will be donated to Pinellas Habitat for Humanity.

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

Largo struggles to find, trim fat 05/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 5:31am]

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