tampabay.com

Saving is a good idea, no matter whose it is

By Times editorial
Published May 11, 2007


Tarpon Springs Commissioner Peter Dalacos isn't always the most diplomatic individual, but he did have a point when he recently criticized three of his commission colleagues because they were all going to the same conference in Arkansas.

Local government officials all over Pinellas have been forecasting deep budget cuts this summer because the Florida Legislature is contemplating cutting into the tax revenue of cities and counties. In public sessions, local officials have predicted libraries will be closed, recreation programs slashed, employees laid off and construction projects canceled or delayed.

But how many elected officials have you heard promising to cut their own travel budgets, mileage allowances or salaries? Admittedly, the cuts might be a pittance compared with the reductions the state probably will mandate, but still, there is a principle involved. Officials who want the public to give up some goodies during these hard times ought to be willing to sacrifice some goodies themselves.

That was the sentiment behind Dalacos' comment, made during the April 24 City Commission meeting. Mayor Beverley Billiris and Commissioners Robin Saenger and Chris Alahouzos were planning to go to Little Rock for a weekend workshop organized by the National League of Cities. The topic: the budget crisis.

Dalacos suggested that since cities are in the midst of a revenue crisis, it was frivolous to send three commissioners to the workshop at an estimated cost of $3, 000. Instead, one could go and bring back information for everyone else. He proposed that the commission adopt a policy on such travel expenditures, an excellent idea.

Then Dalacos kept talking - as he is wont to do - and charged that the trip was "for those interested in furthering their political careers or taking vacations."

Billiris then had her own undiplomatic binge, harrumphing that "if anyone wants to call this a vacation, you need to get your head checked."

The verbal volleying continued for some time, to no constructive end. Tarpon commissioners have gotten quite good at ignoring Dalacos, even when he's saying something they should heed.

Frankly, the Tarpon Springs commission needs to keep a better handle on its spending. Last year, commissioners exceeded their travel budget of $9, 000, spending $20, 960. They also overspent by thousands of dollars on books, periodicals and registrations.

As the state Legislature prepares for a special session on tax reform June 12-22 and cities and counties start cutting popular public services, residents will be looking for proof that elected officials are willing to share residents' pain.