BELLEAIR BEACH - If a former council member’s crystal ball is clear and unobscured, the city might have to re-think its planning for a new city hall.
This is in the nature not of a yellow caution light, but a flashing red signal – stop, look and listen before proceeding.
Ken Lucci, who resigned as a City Council member the day after the March 14 election, sees one-third of the envisioned city hall standing empty.
“The police department will be gone within 36 months,” Lucci says.
And this is coming from a man who has been a strong advocate of Belleair Beach keeping its own police force. It is equivalent, in that kind of way, with President Nixon going to China. That is, the historic position of the prognosticator gives his forecast some believability.
In fact, the last time the subject of the future of the Belleair Beach Police Department came up, that time with an eye to contracting with the Sheriff’s Office as one member of the council wanted to do, Lucci led the fight – with facts and figures – to keep the status quo.
Facts and figures in pursuit of a stand is typical of Lucci who gives issues a careful analysis. At the same time, he quickly admits that his personality has sometimes led him astray – not into disaster, but into positions he might have avoided.
It was this kind of analysis that prompted his resignation from the council.
Lucci has some definite ideas on what direction Belleair Beach should be heading and without a composition on the council that would bolster his views he figured he would be a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Spinning wheels, as it were.
When the ticket of incumbents Donna Durante and Marvin Behm, along with Mike Kelly, a former mayor, failed to get a nod from the electorate, Lucci took a ticket out.
“If two of those three had won, it would have made sense. I would have had some sense on the council. It didn’t work and I figured my time would be wasted,” he says.
Young man in a hurry? Maybe. But that “hurry up and get it done attitude” has paid off for Lucci in success in business and for a guy barely into his 40s he says he figures he has a lot of things he wants to do.
On the police he says, “I am a strong supporter of the police department. I have proven that. But now there seems to be a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances.
“The base cost is rising each year with little control over the fixed expenses – benefits, pensions, insurance. Fine and forfeiture revenue is down drastically due to a change in the law. Our top two or three guys are about three years from retirement and there could be a leadership vacuum that would be expensive to fill. Since police took over code enforcement they are literally at odds with the residents. Also, there are no strong police supporters on the council and there has been talk by some members of getting rid of the department.”
On the heels of all those reasons, unofficial word late last week was that the police will seek huge increases when the Fraternal Order of Police bargains with the city.
The report is that raises of 10 to 15 percent will be sought in each year of a three-year contract. A possible almost 50 percent raise in pay will not go down well with residents.
If there is to be action on the police department, Lucci wants public hearings and to have all options explored.
It takes a public referendum to abolish the police department.
Available as an alternative, and probably the most likely, is the Sheriff’s Office. It is pretty well demonstrated that the sheriff could do the job for less than Belleair Beach is now paying.
“One wrinkle,” Lucci says, “is code enforcement. But that could be financed and the city could run that itself. Or,” he says, “it is something that could be shared with neighboring cities.”
Lucci predicts that the cost of the new city hall, now estimated at $3 million, will go higher than that.
Plans for the new city hall have gone through several evolutions. Way back, it was envisioned as a two-story building with space that would include a club house.
That got scaled down to a more utilitarian building of about 10,000 square feet but that was increased to 12,000 square feet at the request of the city manager because of police department needs.
Now, if Lucci’s view of the future is correct, there would be a lot of empty space in the building. “It would be like building a large house when a divorce is contemplated,” Lucci says.
“And what happens,” he says, “if the city hall continues as planned and the police are no longer there? We are going to have a city hall that is one-third empty. That would be disastrous.”
He says that now is the time to address what could become a monumental problem, not to speak of the embarrassment.
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