BELLEAIR BEACH -- Councilmember Bert Cutler, obviously pursuing his fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of Belleair Beach, looked into alternative police costs and presented the information to the City Council November 15.
But not before another council member tried to block the item -- listed on the agenda for the regular council meeting that date -- from being discussed.
Donna Durante asked that the item be stricken. She claimed that Cutler's individual initiative on seeing to save money for city taxpayers was "not authorized."
Cutler's response was that his purpose was to look into ways of saving money and that as chairman of the Finance Committee he did not feel that he had to go through the council. "I am not advocating anything necessarily," he said, "This is information the council should have."
"Who says it needs to be authorized?" Councilmember Jeff Coulsen asked. "We shouldn't strike it just because someone doesn't want it," he added.
While pursuing information on possible cost saving for the city on police services, Cutler also reported, in his role as chairman of the Building Steering Committee, that plans for a new city hall had been downgraded somewhat.
Instead of a cost of up to $3 million being projected, Cutler spoke of a $1.5 million or so outlay. "We checked out the Belleair Bluffs city hall and found it to be very functional."
The new city hall would not have an open ground level area and instead would be built on a raised berm. The building needs to be above possible flooding. This would reduce the square footage and related additional costs.
On the police matter, Cutler contacted Sheriff Jim Coates who supplied some facts and figures.
Belleair Beach is surrounded by jurisdictions that use the Sheriff's Office for police service. As a footnote to that, every jurisdiction from Madeira Beach to Dunedin that uses the sheriff has extremely high praise for the service.
The thinking is that Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Belleair Shore, which is currently policed by the Belleair Beach Police Department, would be combined into a policing area.
One of the options submitted by Coates would save Belleair Beach $279,322. The current police budget is about $560,000, making Belleair Beach probably the most expensive police department in the nation on a per capita basis.
Another option would save Belleair Beach more than $310,000. A third option would save the city $213,203.
Cutler said that Coates told him that should Belleair Beach contract with the Sheriff's Office, the sheriff would buy the city's existing police vehicles and offer jobs to present Belleair Beach police officers as deputies if they qualified.
Of course, if the city contracts with the PCSO there is no liability exposure and the city would save on insurance costs.
It can clearly be seen that if the city did contract with the sheriff not only would the savings be enormous and extraordinary, the savings would enable the city to pay for any new city hall in a couple of years.
To eliminate the city's police department a referendum is required by law.
"Why not hold a referundum?" Lynn Rives, the Presiding Officer asked. "What are we afraid of?" Rives pointed out that a referendum would be necessary to that city officials could plan for the future.
Councilmember Stan Sofer said, "Lets get all the facts and let the people decide."
His colleague, Mary Jo Henderson, said much the same thing and Coulsen agreed.
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