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Do you prefer quality of life or deep tax cuts?

A Times Editorial
Published July 26, 2007


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Largo officials are taking a calculated risk. Banking that Largo residents like their Sunday library hours, their parks, their recreation programs and want to keep them, city commissioners have taken advantage of an opportunity to depart from state-mandated budget cuts.

You can bet they will be criticized by residents who wanted deep tax cuts. The question is, will more residents praise them for trying to retain a high quality of life in the city?

When the state Legislature handed down its edict requiring city and county governments to cut their 2007-08 taxes by certain percentages, legislators inserted a way that local officials could wiggle out of it. By a super majority vote of the local governing board, they can override the mandate and set a tax rate they feel they need.

The override was created with Florida's very small and underfunded cities and counties in mind. Largo is neither. However, at a special meeting Tuesday, the Largo City Commission voted 5 to 2 for an override. Commissioners voting in the majority said they believe Largo residents want programs and services threatened by budget cuts to remain available. Commissioners Mary Gray Black and Andy Guyette were the two dissenters.

Under the Legislature's mandate, Largo would have been required to reduce its tax rate to the rollback rate, plus cut another 9 percent. With Tuesday's vote, commissioners decided to set the maximum tax rate at $4.01 for every $1,000 of taxable property value rather than the $3.65 the state required. Because property values have gone up, the city will collect about the same amount of tax revenue it did this year.

Commissioners could choose to reduce the tax rate even more later, but they cannot go higher.

The state cut would have trimmed the city budget by $2.8-million. Commissioners had concluded they would have to close the library on Sundays, close a couple of parks during the week, cut out some recreation/social programs and ax the Independence Day fireworks display next year.

The loss of Sunday library hours seemed particularly objectionable to some people who contacted the city. Commissioners hope to restore the library hours and perhaps some of the other proposed cuts. The budget gets final approval in September.

Did they do the right thing? Residents need to let them know. Local governments face additional cuts and revenue caps in future years under the legislative tax reform package. It is important for residents to let their elected officials know what is valuable to them in their community, and what can be trimmed without too much pain.

[Last modified July 25, 2007, 20:16:19]


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