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With less revenue comes reduced service

The impacts of Amendment 1 continue to broaden as local governments get deeper into their annual budget deliberations. In Largo, residents can expect the grass to get longer and the weeds thicker in some city parks.

The parks division's proposed 2009 budget loses $250,000 and trims two grounds maintenance positions. Last week at their work session, city commissioners learned the result of those cuts.

The grass won't get cut as much.

The 12,000 sprinkler heads won't get checked as often as some might like.

And the weeds won't get pulled as regularly or the hedges trimmed as much or the sidewalks washed as often.

Managers in the parks division looked at all the 350 acres they maintain — not just parks, but also athletic fields, street medians, and the grounds of City Hall, rec centers and fire stations — and assigned them a category.

Category A facilities are those that are heavily used, easily seen, have drive-by appeal and in some cases generate income. Ballfields, Largo Central Park and road medians fall into that category.

Category B facilities are those that have less visibility and aren't used as much by the public, such as neighborhood parks, nature preserves and the City Hall complex.

And Category C facilities aren't very visible and have no irrigation, so the landscaping is minimal and the lawns may look more like pastures, with a mix of weeds and grass. Easements and the outlying edges of recreational facilities, for example, fall into Category C, but so do some parks, such as Northeast Park and McMullen Park.

The city staff doesn't want to reduce mowing and other maintenance significantly at the A facilities. They will get 32 mowings during the growing season of March 1 through October 31. But at the B and C facilities, mowing will be reduced — 28 times during the same period at B facilities, and 24 at the C facilities. And the City Hall complex, always beautifully landscaped, won't be spruced up with blooming annuals anymore.

Commissioner Rodney Woods, who works in the landscaping business, said the new intervals are similar to those used for private commercial properties. However, he was concerned that sprinkler systems would be maintained less often, putting landscaping plants at risk and perhaps wasting water. The city has only two people to maintain 60 systems and 12,000 sprinkler heads.

The staff asked if commissioners approved of their proposed reductions.

"Yes, until we see something we don't like," said Mayor Pat Gerard, which drew some laughter.

It was a light-hearted comment with a touch of irony. All over Pinellas County, local government managers are proposing service cuts to put their budgets in line with taxpayers' demand for lower taxes and compensate for the decreased revenue stream resulting from the economic downturn. And in many of those communities, residents are mad about the cuts.

Gerard and the other officials know that when the grass gets longer or the hedges look unkempt, they will hear complaints from unhappy residents who want their tax cuts and their services, too. For government officials in Florida, juggling budget cuts and residents' resentment just comes with the territory these days.

With less revenue comes reduced service 05/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 3:24pm]
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