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Public advises Largo officials on budget priorities

LARGO — Most residents at Tuesday's town hall meeting made sure one message resonated with city officials:

Despite looming cuts to the city's general fund budget, the city needs to keep its library, arts, parks and recreation programs strong.

About 50 residents attended the meeting at the Largo Public Library. City Manager Mac Craig said afterward he had hoped to see a larger crowd, as city officials posted several notices in an extra effort to advertise the meeting.

The city needs to slice about $2 million from its $65.5 million general fund budget for next year. Craig has provided a list of budget-cutting options to city commissioners, including closing the library on Sundays, denying employees raises, cutting more than two dozen city positions and eliminating some park programs.

After a short presentation by Amy Davis, Office of Management and Budget manager, locals voiced their concerns, and officials listened.

Lynda Farrell, a member of the library advisory board, said she did not support the idea of reducing the library's Sunday hours because it is one of the facility's busiest days.

"To close the library when that many people are using it on a Sunday just seems wrong," she said.

Several members of the Friends of Largo Nature Parks spoke in support of McGough Nature Center programs.

Some residents did not want to lose a code enforcement officer.

A few residents supported widespread cuts, saying the city should be fiscally responsible, that only basic services are needed and there should be less of a focus on cultural and arts programs.

The core function of government is to provide essential services and ensure civil order, said one resident, Ray Raulerson.

Craig later disagreed, saying the extras are what sets Largo apart.

"Those things make a city," he said. "You take away the parks, the Cultural Center, the Community Center, and nobody would want to live here."

Resident Bill Little said he did not support axing the city's neighborhood coordinator position, a cut proposed as an option to reduce the city's general fund budget.

He said the neighborhood coordinator, a position created in 2007, helps to smoothly connect residents with City Hall and lessens the burden of commissioners taking suggestions directly from citizens.

"I know that it's much easier to have an issue come up from the bottom than to have it rolling down from the top," Little said.

Craig later said he values the neighborhood coordinator and hopes the position remains.

"It's an association with citizens that we never had before, and my hope is the commission will see the importance of that position," he said.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Pat Gerard said the citizens' concerns are important and prove how difficult it is to satisfy everyone during the budgeting process.

"You've made it a lot harder for us, but that's okay," she told the crowd.

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert said city officials will review all of the input gathered from residents in April. The Office of Management and Budget has until July 1 to submit a proposed budget.

Public advises Largo officials on budget priorities 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 4:31am]
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