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Residents urge Largo leaders to avoid budget cuts

Little girls supported after-school programs with signs saying, "We love Outreach."

Seniors raved about the city's fitness facilities.

And one woman shared how the city's recreation programs helped her cope with the loss of her husband.

About 250 people showed up at the Largo Public Library on Monday for the city's community budget work session. Almost all of the 33 speakers asked city leaders not to cut their favorite programs.

The session was held in response to recent legislation that will reduce both property owners' tax bills and city revenues. Largo predicts a budget shortfall of $3-million next year and cuts of $8-million over the next five years.

Largo's current budget is about $133-million, and its property tax rate is $3.65 per $1,000 of taxable home value.

The city had four budget focus groups meet in February and asked 68 residents active in city affairs for suggestions on how to streamline next year's budget, which will be proposed this summer and adopted in September. On Monday, some of those ideas were presented at the community session.

The crowd wasn't crazy about all of the focus groups' ideas. But it agreed with the key ones: improve efficiency of city operations first, and then raise user fees; reduce or cut services as a last resort.

Monday night, Phyllis Salloway, 70, approached the microphone, her body shaking and her voice trembling from a neurological disorder. She told the crowd how she lost her husband in December 2005.

"I've gone through a grieving period," Salloway said. "People have told me, 'Get out and do things.' I found my life restored at the Largo Community Center and the Highland recreation center."

Even though outreach programs for children aren't on the chopping block yet, several speakers urged city leaders to keep those programs intact.

Such programs serve "hundreds of kids in the community," said Eugenia Stewart-Harris, joined by four girls holding signs. "Our kids need a safe place after school."

Several residents said they would be willing to pay higher fees, and a few said they would even contribute their property tax breaks to make sure city programs stayed in place.

One resident who had participated in Largo's Citizens Academy said he wondered whether the city had too many people in management positions.

"I'm afraid when it's all over, we're going to lose a hundred people that drive trucks and dig ditches and things like that, but the white shirts and ties are still going to be there," Jim Pierce said.

While most of the people urged city leaders not to cut services, one man said Largo should do so if it means keeping taxes low.

"The citizens of Florida passed Amendment 1," said Jim Janowski, a Largo resident and landlord. "The majority of us want lower taxes. And certainly if that means less services, that's what we expect."

Former Mayor Bob Jackson offered several suggestions and said he wouldn't rule out dipping into reserves.

"I always thought reserves were for a rainy day," Jackson said. "I think it's raining right now if we hear what politicians are telling us."

Focus group key ideas

• Increase efficiency

• Consider higher user fees

• Reduce size and number of city vehicles

• Eliminate police motorcycle program

• Increase Internet marketing

• Cut services as a last resort

>>Fast facts

Focus group key ideas

• Increase efficiency

• Consider higher user fees

• Reduce size and number of city vehicles

• Eliminate police motorcycle program

• Increase Internet marketing

• Cut services as a last resort

Residents urge Largo leaders to avoid budget cuts 03/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008 8:32pm]
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