Tonight the Pinellas County Commission finalized their decision to raise property taxes $12.3 million to fund an EMS system that is growing out of control. Commissioners Seal and Morroni said tonight and at a previous meeting that they have been “kicking this can down the road” for three years now and promise each year would be the last year they delay cutting costs until they can fix the problem. Then they voted once more to kick the can down the road while promising -yet again -they absolutely would fix the spending problems: “next year” .
(Commissioner Latvala on 9/6 justifying a tax increase by stating without the extra money, people would not get the promised ambulance service they have paid for with years of taxes. She denied ever saying this at the 9/15 final public hearing. Links to video below).
The Citizens of Pinellas can be grateful that two Commissioners again voted no on raising taxes: Nancy Bostock and Norm Roche. However more distractions and finger pointing was offered by the other Commissioners and County Administrator Robert LaSala. They insisted that it wasn’t their fault since the state law required them to pay the cities for their fire expenses. Yet in a round of questioning the County attorney indicated that indeed those costs can come from other parts of the general fund without increasing the property taxes in the middle of a recession.
Yet again, commissioner Latvala deceived the public by indicating that there was no choice and indicating that raising taxes would allow increased services in North Pinellas County. However an analysis presented to them at the 9/6 meeting (time mark 4:14 at http://www.pinellascounty.org/media/bcc-2011-09-06/meeting.ram) revealed that most of the increased cost will go into reserve. Despite Commissioner Latvala’s assertion, the increased money will NOT go to increase EMS services in her part of the county. Further, she proudly boasts that the millage rate (property tax rate) was cut in 2007, but neglects to mention that property taxes paid by citizens of Pinellas still went up $33.5 million! So Commissioner Latvala honestly thinks that taxpayers are so ignorant that they will fall for this old “I cut the tax rate” ploy while taxes went up!
Finally, Commissioner Latvala must have selective memory or she merely is unwilling to admit the fact that she was engaging in irresponsible fear mongering on 9/6/2011 when she said that without a tax increase, the citizens would have to rely on “SUV’s and pickup trucks” to get to hospitals (see St. Pete Times Buzz Blog: http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/baybuzz/content/pinellas-dashes-bid-cut-ems-tax-hike-0 ). She knows and the reader knows that is nonsense and is designed to scare taxpayers into accepting higher taxes. (You can see the comments she denied making here at time point 6:07:10 -6 hours and 7 minutes and 10 seconds- http://www.pinellascounty.org/media/bcc-2011-09-06/meeting.ram ) She and others on the commission stated that the Public Safety part of the budget (Sherriff and EMS) were the top priorities. So, it would be irresponsible of them to allow spending on such things as Social Action Funding, Public Art, unacceptably high government worker benefits, more ribbon cutting projects for politicians and nonsensical economic planning for a “Super Region first when public safety is suffering. If commissioner Latvala and others really cared about making EMS a top priority they would cut wasteful spending enough to meet their obligations and do so without raising taxes. Our economy will be further damaged by their irresponsible tax hikes.
The brightest spot of the evening was that the room was jam packed with citizens watching in dismay as the Commission once again voted to raise taxes. This is a new engaged citizenry that will hold these folks accountable. These 50 or so people were represented at the 9/6/11 meeting by 5 people that the St. Petersburg times mentioned was outnumbered by politicians and county staffers (see tampapaybay.com link above). Sadly the majority of the Commission was not impressed. They only seem to be impressed when they can use such crowds to justify MORE spending and HIGHER taxes. When large groups show up for lower spending and lower taxes, excuses are made and the groups are ignored. That is what happened when the group “Cut Taxes Now” was working on these issues a few years ago.
Thankfully times have changed for the citizens and it will just take a few years to replace the elected officials with those who listen to the taxpayers and not the special interests.
The time has come for citizens to start demanding all sorts of detailed data from the County staff to help understand how money is being spent. The Sun Beam Times will publish the analyses.