INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- It is no news that Sheriff Everett Rice takes seriously what his department's responsibilities are, so when he showed up at Indian Rocks Beach's City Commission meeting last week it was no surprise.
He was accompanied by his putative successor, Jim Coats (who seems a sure bet to survive this year's election process), Maj. Dennis Fowler, Lt. Steve Rasor and a couple of guys in civvies.
Rice was in civvies, too, the way he most often dresses and he was at Indian Rocks Beach to participate in the discussion of a review of police services that the commission had on its agenda.
The Sheriff's Office has policed Indian Rocks Beach for 11 years now. It has gained plaudits for every one of those years -- all under the aegis of Rice, who, in 2005, moves to the state legislature after a stellar career as sheriff.
One concern Indian Rocks Beach has is the cost of policing. John Coffey, the city manager, in accordance with his duties, decided to check to see if he could get the job done less expensively.
Largo's police department, headed by another excellent man, Lester Aradi, was invited to make a proposal. Largo's proposal had not been received in Indian Rocks Beach yet; it is expected later this month.
In the meantime, Rice and his staff are wasting no time in pointing out the benefits of what having sheriff's deputies on the street mean.
The Sheriff's Office cost to Indian Rocks Beach in the upcoming year is up 10.05 percent, bringing the price to $675,000, in round figures.
Examine the figures. Even counting Indian Rocks Beach population using the low number, 4,000, (full-time, year-around residents), per capita cost of policing comes out at $168. The population goes to about 7,000 in the winter.
Largo's per capital police cost is $235. Of course, neither comes anywhere near the $340 for per capital police costs in neighboring Belleair Beach (perhaps the highest in the United States).
Doing the obvious -- extending the Largo per capita cost into Indian Rocks Beach -- produces a cost, if Largo were to do the policing, of $940,000, 40 percent more than the current cost of the Sheriff's Office.
Rice himself raised an interesting question in an interview after the July 27 meeting. "Why would Largo want to come in here? To make money? I can't think of any other reason."
To make any deal palatable for Indian Rocks Beach, Largo would have to come in under the Sheriff's price or offer a multi-year contract with guarantees. Both ideas are probably impossible in any prudent planning.
The history under Rice's administration shows that these contracts with municipalities (Madeira Beach, Dunedin, Belleair Bluffs, etc.) are not money making ventures and all of them draw high praise for the Sheriff's Office for the job deputies do.
But increases are enough to raise questions and commissioners in Indian Rocks Beach, following their fiduciary duty to taxpayers, are looking into the expense.
So the questioning by one commissioner -- Jeremiah Carmody -- which was sarcastic and had its hostility masked in the usual exaggerated grins and grimaces that seem to be his trademark, did not seem to fit into the picture of comity that was otherwise established.
"My concern is the increases," Carmody purred. "What will it be next year, 10 percent, 20 percent, 30, 40 percent?"
Rice patiently explained that he had forecast some increases a couple of years ago and decided to spread them over three years. "We are now in the second year of that," he explained, levelly.
One great advantage of having the Sheriff's Office as a municipal police force is the total avoidance of liability by the city.
An observer said, "It is hard to see how Largo could come in here at much of a lower price, and if Largo does come in, Indian Rocks Beach will have liability."
One high IRB official said that Largo expected Indian Rocks Beach was expected to buy a couple of police cars. That remains to be seen when the Largo proposal is received in Indian Rocks Beach.
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