Pulling in belts to hide that tax bulge

Published May 23, 2007

How much are local governments looking forward to the potential fallout from the June special session on property tax cuts?

Pretty much like your average mobile home resident looks forward to that first weather report about a swirly storm out in the gulf.

Cities and counties fear a drastic diet for local programs and services is coming. So last week, Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena magnanimously suggested the board at least discuss cutting their own salaries. "I would be willing to do it," said Saul-Sena, who is expected to run for mayor.

Though she is undoubtedly sincere, it should be noted a recent financial disclosure form puts this council member's net worth at $2.6-million, or comfortably in I-don't-need-this-job territory.

Her proposal, while nobly aimed at everyone sharing the pain, could make fellow council members look bad if they decline. Some suggest this show of solidarity is premature until they see what happens in Tallahassee.

And, hey, why can't a lone council member opt to take one for the team herself?

Council members did get a $10,000 raise this year, boosting their annual salary to $40,250 for what's supposed to be a part-time job. (They will tell you it isn't.) The raise was voted in two years ago to benefit the future board.

The newest council members ran for the job knowing what it paid. How fair is it to say, "Hey, you've been here a couple of weeks now. How 'bout a pay cut?"

In a more modest show of willingness to tighten their individual belts, council members agreed to give up $1,000 of the $4,200 allotted each of them to travel to conferences and such. Returning council member Charlie Miranda -- the man who once wore black to mourn public money to pay for a football stadium -- did one better: He offered up his whole budget.

"We are part of the system," Miranda said. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

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Speaking of stressing over property tax cuts, City Council chairwoman and resident wallflower Gwen Miller actually showed some stick last week when Mayor Pam Iorio wanted the council to carve $66,055 from its budget.

Miller, you'll remember, faced off against strip club king Joe Redner in the last election. She took heat for being a quiet politician with no real legacy to show for her years on the board. She won anyway, maybe due to a city's inability to forgive Redner for being, well, Redner.

Last week, Miller sounded very you're-not-the-boss-of-me when she told fellow council members they don't answer to the city administration and would not be trimming as suggested.

She later apologized to the mayor in a memo, saying, "In no way did I mean to disrespect your position." To Miller's credit, she didn't budge on the cut.

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Finally, the Bad Timing Award goes to the counties' annual conference, scheduled at SeaWorld just as that dreaded special session begins. As the Times reported, events included a chocolate reception and golf outing -- though said events later disappeared from the schedule.

Not such good press for counties accused of spending as big and bloated as, say, Shamu himself.