BELLEAIR BEACH -- In looking into alternatives to save money on police costs, Bert Cutler, a member of the Belleair Beach City Council, received three options from Sheriff Jim Coates. All of them save a huge amount of money for Belleair Beach.
But there is steadfast opposition from some to having the Sheriff's Office police Belleair Beach. Observers say it is hard to understand why any elected official would oppose saving up to $327,000 a year in police costs.
Councilmember Donna Durante is adamant in her opposition to contracting with the sheriff.
Why this would be so is hard to understand. It would seem that it puts her in the position of being against saving a whopping amount of taxpayers' money.
Attempts to reach Durante for comment were not successful.
In fact, at the November 15 meeting where Cutler had the information he had garnered from Sheriff Jim Coates on agenda, Durante tried to have it removed from the agenda. There was no good reason to do so.
Coates presented Cutler with three options -- two for the joint policing of Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore and the other for Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore.
All save extraordinary amounts of money for each of the jurisdicitions.
Currently, Indian Rocks Beach's contract with the Sheriff's Office calls for a yearly payment of $693,809.
Belleair Beach's police budget is $559,951, offset by the $19,200 Belleair Shore pays.
Under the sheriff's offered plan, which included complicated and arcane tables of statistical matter (demonstrating that the figures were not just pulled out of thin air), Belleair Beach would save $279,322 under the first option about a 50 percent saving.
That option would save Indian Rocks Beach $4,994 and Belleair Shore $7,365.
A second option, in which there would be joint policing of the three jurisdictions, Belleair Beach would save $310,045, leaving a cost of $230,697 -- 42 percent of the current cost.
In that option, Indian Rocks Beach would save $85,946 and Belleair Shore $8,756.
The arrangement with just Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore would require a cost of $327,539 for Belleair Beach -- 60 percent of the current outlay (a 40 percent saving) -- and a savings of $3,512 for Belleair Shore.
Some Belleair Beach taxpayers, apprised of the projected savings and Durante's opposition to them could not understand why anyone would oppose such huge savings for the city.
A theory advanced by one source is that there is an "elite" thinking element in the city that wants to imitate Belleair. "Belleair has its household cavalry, so to speak," the source said. "But we are not Belleair. Anyone in Belleair will tell you that."
At the November 15 meeting Cutler said that he had spoken with John Coffey, the Indian Rocks Beach city manager, and said that Coffey was amenable to some such arrangement as outlined by Coates.
Cutler said that Coates said that current Belleair Beach officers if qualified would be hired by the Sheriff's Office and the sheriff would reimburse the city for its present vehicles (a number hard to determine because of the constant shuffling of cars).
Presiding Officer Lynn Rives has proposed a referendum on the question (it is necessary under Belleair Beach's ordinances to get rid of the city police department).
"Why not?" he said. "What are we afraid of?"
Residents wonder why there is such a frenzied opposition to saving money.
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