BELLEAIR BEACH - At Thursday's special work session Mayor Rudy Davis and the city council related the steps they're taking to solve the city's staffing problems.
Davis said as he reviews the whole employment picture, including what salaries have moved to, it's prudent to check out other contracts and do a comparative to inform citizens.
Regarding the policing situation, the council is trying to look at the city's choices from all angles. The information they gather will be presented to residents before a March referendum expected to include a question of whether the city should retain its own force or not.
Several irons appear to be in the fire. A new idea was introduced, as were alternatives to contracting with the sheriff.
Mayor Rudy Davis said informal talks have been in the works about the possibility of Belleair Beach and the town of Belleair sharing a police department. City attorneys for both tentatively concur that because the two municipalities share a common border at the Intracoastal Waterway, the needed criteria for consolidating can be met.
Continuing with that line of thinking, Davis introduced the idea that consolidating with Belleair and Belleair Bluffs to form one city, with one city hall, one city government and one city police department might be beneficial, considering today's changing financial climate.
Davis told the council that a feasibility study outlining the advantages and disadvantages of such a move should be conducted. Council members pointed out that if ever the cities merged attention to keeping each town's character would be paramount, especially for Belleair Beach which is strictly residential.
Solid action is being taken in a search for a police chief. City manager, Reid Silverboard reported that he is advertising in the state and national police chief organizations. One hundred applications have been submitted, with nearly 30 from officers already living in Florida, including a former Belleair Beach police chief.
Silverboard said the Police Applicant Screening Board (PASS) could help the city with the initial screening of applications by forming a committee of local police chiefs to review the resumes and narrow the list down to 6-10 candidates who best fit the criteria Belleair Beach sets forth for a chief.
Paul Moreno, Belleair Beach city attorney who has prior experience with the process, explained that its customary for the applications to be dispersed to police chiefs of neighboring communities. "You'd be surprised how close they are with each other with their selections," said Moreno.
Having a citizen's advisory group form to participate in the selection process was also entertained. Silverboard said he would welcome the help.
Hiring retired, seasoned officers who would need little or no training and presumedly already possess the people skills needed for community policing was mentioned as another way in which to man the city's own department. Moreno said he obtained a list of retired St Petersburg officers who want to get back into the work force.
The option of contracting with the sheriff's office was discussed and will undergo more scrutiny. The council agreed that Silverboard needs to meet with Sheriff Jim Coats to review the sheriff's menu of services and the cost for each.
Previously the sheriff communicated a verbal amount of $368k as a tentative first year cost for one deputy to patrol Belleair Beach 'round the clock. Silverboard said other city managers in the know have told him that "patrol" doesn't cover "traffic". Silverboard said if consideration is given to contracting with the sheriff, the council needs to specify the exact services they want on top of the basic service the sheriff has offered and identify what the additional costs will be.
Time for citizens comments was given. Referring to a letter the council sent the sheriff last month asking him to refrain from hiring away Belleair Beach police officers, former Belleair Beach council member Ken Lucci, took the podium and asked the council to, "Please stop fighting with the sheriff in public." Lucci postulated that as time goes on and more officers leave, the city may be left with no police protection. "I would like to put the council on notice," Lucci threatened. "I will sue each member of this council personally and the city if that happens."
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