LARGO — Commissioners passed Largo's 2011 budget Wednesday night, trimming overall spending by $3.3 million and finding room to finance the McGough Nature Center — a much-loved amenity that was in danger of closing.
The savings came at a cost of 14 jobs, fee increases at recreation facilities, police and fire department pension reductions and pay freezes for all employees.
The job losses are a combination of layoffs, attrition and combining positions.
City Manager Norton "Mac" Craig's goal was to cut $3.5 million from the budget.
Commissioners also gave final approval on the city's tax rate — keeping last year's level of $4.30 per every $1,000 of taxable property value.
By not raising the tax rate to compensate for lower home values across the city, Largo will lose an estimated $1.7 million in revenue compared to its tax income last year.
One of the contentious issues among commissioners during the budget process was financing for Largo's Cultural Center.
The center, which was built partially with large donations from private benefactors as a low-cost outlet for the arts in the city, came under fire from Commissioner Curtis Holmes. His beef? It's not generating enough revenue to cover all of its operating expenses, with the center receiving about 30 percent of its funding from taxpayer dollars.
"I don't believe in this redistribution of wealth," Holmes said. "If they don't show an improvement in finances . . . I will go to great lengths to make sure there are no further subsidies."
Other commissioners were quick to defend the center, noting that it was never intended to completely finance its own operation.
"I respectfully disagree," said Commissioner Robert Murray. "I think the cultural center is a very valuable amenity to the community.
"Many people come into the community to go to the cultural center. They put money into the local economy."
Commissioner Harriet Crozier called on several commissioners by name to remind them of the reasoning behind building the center.
"When the cultural center was built, it was built for the community," she said. "It was never, ever meant to be an enterprise fund. It was built with the intent that we are giving the arts to the community at a reasonable rate."
The majority defense of the center was contrasted by a unanimous skepticism of the city's ownership of the Largo Municipal Golf Course, which was purchased by the city to generate revenue but has become a drain on finances in recent years.
Commissioner Gigi Arntzen, who defended funding the Cultural Center, said the clock is ticking on the golf course to turn itself around, or else she would support action to privatize its operation.
"The golf course, I'm going to give it a year," Arntzen said. "The golf course was meant to make money for the city. It didn't. It has been a drain."