Clearwater Police Budget a "Work in Progress"
Sheriff's Proposal All but Rejected
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - City Manager Bill Horne called the Clearwater Police Department's (CPD) budget-cutting exercise a "work in progress" at last Thursday's City Council meeting, when Chief Tony Holloway made another presentation on how he would trim his organization and help the city close a budget deficit projected at about $7.5-million next year.
"We have made some corrections," said Clearwater Police Chief Tony Holloway of the cuts he presented at Monday's worksession. But those corrections did not amount to any additional savings; they were simply a shift in the numbers of supervisor and patrol officer positions that would be cut.
During Monday's worksession, Holloway proposed reducing CPD's budget by $2.3-million, including the elimination of 3 detectives, 7 patrol officers and one sergeant.
But Vice Mayor John Doran pointed-out that Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats was instructed to not eliminate any patrol officers or detectives when preparing his proposal to provide law enforcement in the city. That proposal would save the city $10.8-million in 2010/11, Coats claimed.
"I'm trying to reconcile on one hand what we told the Sheriff, and on the other hand what you're proposing," Doran told Holloway on Monday.
In response to Doran's concerns and Mayor Frank Hibbard's earlier statement that the positions cut "won't be officers, it will be supervisors," Holloway on Thursday changed the mix of cut positions to 8 sergeants, 1 detective and 2 patrol officers.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) proposal, in contrast, would cut 6 sergeants but add 2 deputies, reducing the supervisory ranks while increasing the number of patrol deputies.
But the Sheriff's proposal appears to be a dead issue, at least for next year. Clearwater's Mayor and Councilmembers are no longer considering it an option, and are focusing their efforts on reducing CPD's budget while minimizing reductions in police service.
Foremost among the reasons that Clearwater's elected officials are turning their backs to net savings that could amount to some $6-million next year is their concern that losing management control of the city's police force would limit their ability to deploy law enforcement resources when and where they were needed.
They also share a disbelief in the magnitude of the savings Sheriff Coats' proposal claimed, and are concerned that some of those savings would be temporary, as the cost of Sheriff's Deputy wages and contributions to Florida's underfunded Retirement System increase over time.
Concern about the potential impact on CPD's employees played a role in the Council's decision to retain the city's police force as well, the rehiring of CPD officers by the Sheriff at less than their current salaries thought to be unfair to long-term employees.
Finally, the popular support for CPD demonstrated by Clearwater's citizens at public meetings and via e-mail influenced the Council to continue a law enforcement service valued highly by those served.
The city will continue to hunt for CPD cost savings during the 2010/11 budget cycle. Consolidation of call center operations and reductions in the cost of fleet maintenance are two areas of opportunity being explored. Clearwater has also asked the Fraternal Order of Police, the labor union that represents the city's police officers, for several concessions that could save the city nearly $1-million annually.
For his part, Sheriff Coats is disappointed that Clearwater required the PCSO proposal to duplicate the city's patrol officer and detective staffing levels. Had he been able to use PCSO staffing models, Coats claims that an additional 44 positions could be eliminated, growing the savings to over $14-million.
The cuts would include 18 patrol officers and 12 detectives. The reduction in sworn officers could be perceived by some as a diminished level of service, but Coats points to statistics maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) as evidence that he simply runs a more efficient operation.
According to FDLE's 2009 data, CPD's ratio of officers to residents was 2.6 per thousand, while PCSO's was only 1.8. Despite having lower officer ratio, the overall crime rate in areas served by PCSO was lower than Clearwater's, 3.4 per thousand residents versus Clearwater's 5.1 per thousand.
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