Times are tough, and your country needs you. • There are all sorts of ways to be a good citizen and contribute your best in this time of need. Here are some ideas:
Five North Pinellas cities have local elections today: Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Oldsmar, Belleair and Belleair Bluffs. Many residents already have voted through mail ballots, but for those who haven't, the polls will be open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
It has never been more important to have smart, capable and creative people in public office. City governments' revenues have been hit hard in this recession, on top of the limits already set by the state Legislature and voters who approved Amendment 1. Local governments are struggling to stretch their dollars. Yet the public still demands the services cities provide.
It is a difficult time to be an elected official, but in each of these five cities, people have stepped up who are willing to serve. Reward their civic effort by going to the polls today and choosing wisely.
Speak your mind
Local governments are just beginning the process of building a budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. By July, each city must set its maximum tax rate. Budgets will get final approval in September.
Between now and then, there will be opportunities for the public to comment about local government spending. In fact, some local governments already are conducting special meetings to hear from residents about which services they think should be saved and which should be cut.
Now is a good time to comment, before budgets are in a form that is more difficult to change. Call your city hall or county government or check their Web sites for dates of meetings and ways to make your preferences known.
Your city isn't the only level of government that needs your input. The Florida Legislature is in session in Tallahassee, with some transformational legislation under consideration. Officials in Washington also could benefit from hearing from the people back home.
If you don't know whom to contact in local, state or national government, you need a copy of the 2009-2010 Pinellas County Citizens' Guide. It lists the names, addresses and phone numbers for officials from the White House to the Pinellas School Board, and it also lists the address and phone and fax numbers for Pinellas city halls.
You can print out a copy of the guide from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Web site at www.votepinellas.com. On the menu on the left side of the screen, hover over Voter Information and then click on Citizen Guide.
Extend a hand
Nonprofit agencies that provide desperately needed services are themselves desperate. Many are seeing huge increases in the number of clients who need their services, but donations are down and the government dollars that helped them serve the public are being slashed.
To bridge the gap, these agencies are asking for help from anyone who can afford to donate money or time. Check the newspaper, the Internet, or inquire at your local school or church to find volunteer opportunities.
And if you have lost your job, consider volunteering at a local nonprofit during those hours when you are not searching for work. It is an opportunity to make an important contribution to your community.