BELLEAIR BLUFFS -- Sheriff Jim Coats said Monday night in a visit to the Belleair Bluffs City Commission workshop that he envisioned an eventual single, countywide law enforcement system.
In recent days there has been talk of bringing all fire services into one countywide system.
Most people who have spoken of countywide law enforcement have thought of all jurisdictions with the exception of the three large cities -- St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Largo -- being policed by the Sheriff's Office.
Under the law, the sheriff is responsible, in an overriding way, often inactive, for all law enforcement in the county.
Coats made his comment in answer to a query by Commissioner Dave Shimkus.
"It's a matter of time," Coats said, in reference to countywide service by his department. "That," he continued, "and the economics of it. These smaller cities just will not be able to afford to carry their own police forces."
A battle is currently raging in Belleair Beach whether to keep the city police force there or contract with the sheriff for police services. There could be savings of as much as $300,000.
All those municipalities that are policed by sheriff's deputies have high praise for the service.
"I was against getting rid of our city police when the question came up years ago," Mayor Chris Arbutine said. "But I was wrong. It was the best thing we ever did."
Coats was making his first visit to Belleair Bluffs as sheriff since he was elected last month, succeeding Everett Rice who is now a representative in the state legislature.
"I promise to continue, if not do better with the high level of service we have provided," Coats told commissioners.
In other action, the commission re-set the date for its regular meeting next month from January 17 to January 19. The change was necessitated by the Martin Luther King holiday June 17.
Usually, the commission is scheduled the next day when a holiday intrudes. In this case, a private organization is having a spaghetti supper on that Tuesday so the city hall is not available for government purposes.
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