BELLEAIR BEACH -- In a hamlet that is not growing, has no business district, no schools, no churches, one main thoroughfare and virtually no crime, the cost of the police department has skyrocketed by 60 percent over the past five years.
In 1999, the police budget was about $350,000. In the draft budget submitted by Mayor Mike Kelly for fiscal year 2005 the police cost is $560,000.
That figure makes Belleair Beach, on a per capita basis, the most expensive police department in Pinellas County and perhaps Florida, or the nation.
At a per capita cost of about $340, Belleair Beach taxpayers are being hit much harder than residents of Belleair Bluffs who pay about $157 per capita for policing.
Belleair Bluffs, with a population of about 2,200, will pay the Sheriff's Office $346,000 for police services in 2005. Belleair Bluffs has many businesses and two heavily traveled highways.
Next door Indian Rocks Beach, with 6,000 residents, will pay $112 per capita for police services. Even Largo, with some big city problems, pays far less than tranquil Belleair Beach at about $234 per capita, more than $100 less than Belleair Beach.
The 2005 draft budget for the police department shows an expenditure of almost $25,000 for another vehicle. The game of musical cars and trucks has been played so avidly in Belleair Beach recently that no one can untangle all the "deals" and "transactions" that have taken place.
Even the notorious "Autogate" of early in this year has never been satisfactorily explained as the police chief and mayor have kept their lips sealed.
A look at past budgets shows a steady and inexorable increase in police services although there is no manifest evidence to show that increased policing is needed.
The force has remained static (although two officers recently quit), the population of Belleair Beach has not grown, there have been no radical changes.
One beneficiary of the budget has been the police chief who, two years ago, had a salary pegged at $44,000. He got a huge raise of 14.3 percent last year, bringing him to $50,288. Another raise for 2005 will bring Armistead to $52,149, and when benefits are cranked in his compensation package is almost $61,000.
Lots of cities do not have skyrocketing police budgets. A comparison can be made of another Florida city to demonstrate this.
The city, with a population of 5,800, has a budget of $1.1 million ($190 per capita) that supports 20 full time employees (14 police officers), electric, water, vehicle maintenance, two K-9s.
That city's police budget has not changed in five years, showing that when times are tough, belt tightening can be managed.
The obvious solution for Belleair Beach, whose officials are constantly crying for more money, is to contract with the Sheriff's Office for police services.
The benefits of doing so are enormous.
Belleair Beach would save $250,000 a year in police expenditure, the city would have highly professional deputies, there would be no insurance for liability.
Why taxpayers have not clamored for this tremendous savings is a mystery.
With the prospect of a new city hall approaching $3 million in cost it is a wonder that taxpayers remain so docile.
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